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Friends and Neighbors,

The 60-day, 2024 legislative session is underway. State lawmakers returned to Olympia on Monday for opening ceremonies. On Tuesday, the two chambers came together for the governor’s State of the State address – followed by the Republican perspective and news conferences from Republicans and Democrats. The week also included several committee hearings.

In these “short” legislative sessions, the pace is fast and the deadlines come quickly. This year, the primary responsibility of state lawmakers is to pass supplemental operating, transportation and capital budgets. Basically, we need to make mid-course adjustments to the state spending plans developed last year. I will talk more about these budgets in future email updates.

Problems and solutions

I don’t think I have to tell you that our state is facing major challenges. My caucus is calling it a catalog of crises. We see these crises in our communities and perhaps you have been personally impacted by some of them. Crises including public safety, affordability, homelessness, and K-12 education.

Public safety

Crime is out of control in our state. We rank near the top in the nation for property crime, auto theft, and retail theft. Seattle also just had a record number of homicides in 2023. Meanwhile, our state ranks dead last in terms of police officers per capita. At the same time, the majority party has limited law enforcement’s vehicular pursuit options, no doubt contributing to these unacceptable rankings.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We can start with two simple, common-sense solutions. First, reinstate vehicular pursuit laws so law enforcement can again do their jobs and keep our communities safe. Then, offer recruitment and retention bonuses for police officers so we can boost numbers and improve morale.

Affordability

A lot goes under the banner of affordability, or cost of living. Simply put: It is expensive to live in our state. From housing to gas prices, to other everyday expenses, family budgets are strained. However, our state tax collections have been robust over the last few years – including budget surpluses. Yet, the majority party did not pass or even entertain meaningful tax relief proposed by Republicans.

We have put multiple options on the table. Our housing affordability problem is tied directly to the fact our state does not have enough housing units. So, we have developed policies that would allow for more housing – all kinds of different types of housing.

Second, families need tax relief. That’s why I have introduced both state sales tax and property tax relief. Either one would help Washingtonians, especially those struggling financially. State lawmakers could also repeal the unpopular long-term care payroll tax.

Third, the Legislature could take excess revenue created by the controversial Climate Commitment Act (also called cap-and-trade), a hidden tax that has caused state gas prices to spike since January 1 of last year, and rebate that money to motorists. If not this, then let’s find other ways to get relief to Washingtonians.

I voted against the measure that created the Climate Commitment Act in 2021, arguing that it would increase gas and energy prices. And that’s exactly what has happened. Our gas prices have long been higher than the national average, but after this hidden tax went into effect, that difference got much larger.

Finally, state lawmakers should not pass any more tax increases, fee increases, or other financial burdens on the people of Washington. And we should not make it easier for local government to raise your taxes. Enough is enough. Do no more harm.

Homelessness

Perhaps the most visible of our state crises is homelessness. A recent report showed 28,000 people experiencing homelessness in our state in 2023 – an 11% increase from 2022. Our state ranks among the highest in the nation for homelessness.

A starting point would be to provide local governments with funding to remove encampments near schools, child care centers, parks, and courthouses. But there must be accountability with any taxpayer dollars used to address this issue.

We know the primary factors in homelessness include economic despair, drug abuse, and mental illness. Everything proposed above to restore affordability would help resolve economic despair.

State lawmakers came together to pass bipartisan drug possession reform last year in a special session, but more must be done. I think most people would agree we need to show compassion and find help for those who find themselves in the grip of addiction. But there needs to be accountability for those who refuse treatment.

Lastly, the Legislature – also through a bipartisan effort – has made critical investments in our state’s mental health system in recent years. However, it will take time to build and bring facilities online as well as to develop the workforce needed to meet the demands for services.

K-12 education

The governor’s decision to shut down in-class instruction during the pandemic has had consequences for our K-12 students’ academic performance. Nearly 70% of our students are failing math and 50% are failing reading. This is alarming. You can find more K-12 education facts and impacts here.

We need to do more to get these students back on track, beginning with high-quality tutoring in every school. This requires tutors and more paraeducators in classrooms. We also need to assist school districts in economically disadvantaged areas of our state to build new schools. Every student deserves a quality learning environment regardless of where they live. Local homeowners should not bear a greater burden because the state did not.

How you can be involved

We also have numerous problems in various areas of transportation, especially with rising project costs. Sounds like a lot to tackle in a “short” session, but this is what state lawmakers were elected to do.

The 2024 session’s work is underway, and I welcome you to express your thoughts. The web page below is a great resource for you to be involved with what’s happening in Olympia. You are welcome to call, email, or send me a letter anytime. And if you plan to be in Olympia, please let me know so we can see if our schedules enable us to meet.

Sincerely,


Ed Orcutt

State Representative Ed Orcutt, 20th Legislative District
RepresentativeEdOrcutt.com
408 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
ed.orcutt@leg.wa.gov
(360) 786-7990 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000