Hello Friends and Neighbors,
I hope this report finds you and your loved ones doing OK. I wish I had good news about the affordability issues facing families here and across our state, but none of the 303 laws created by the Legislature this year will provide significant relief from inflation. Despite a $15 billion surplus, I and my Republican colleagues simply couldn’t find agreement across the aisle on our proposals to let you to keep more of your money.
The latest edition of my “Rational Steps” policy paper goes into more detail about the affordability crisis in our state, and how it will be exacerbated by tax hikes looming in 2023.
Let’s suspend the gas tax! One week into this year’s session, I co-sponsored legislation to suspend the state gas tax (49.4 cents per gallon) for the remainder of 2022. That’s because we were already seeing gas prices climb, a full five weeks before Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, and the state’s $15 billion surplus could support such a move. The bill didn’t attract sponsors from the Senate’s Democratic majority, but I don’t see this as a partisan issue – a month later, one of the Democratic members of Washington’s congressional delegation offered a similar proposal regarding the federal gas tax (it’s 18.4 cents per gallon).
When the 2022 legislative session ended March 10, a gallon of regular unleaded in our state sold for an average of $4.38 – more than a half-dollar higher than the $3.82 per gallon during the first week of January 2022. Even so, the majority showed no interest in SB 5897, even when Republicans tried to bring it up for consideration by the Senate in early March.
You know what’s happened since then: the pain at the pump has become worse, on a near-daily basis. The average price for regular unleaded in our state is more than double the $2.68 per gallon it cost in the first week of January 2021 – just 17 months ago! The price is even higher in the Vancouver area, according to AAA Washington’s gas-price tracker.
For a two-car family that drives a combined 30,000 miles a year at an average of 20 miles per gallon, that price differential equates to over $4,000 in increased annual gas costs. And that’s before you consider how costs for other things, like food, have gone up.
On Friday I publicly called for a special session now so we can act and give the people some long-overdue financial relief. If Governor Inslee responds as he did last month, he will again mislead the public about what our proposal would do. He’ll claim oil companies would simply raise their prices by the amount of the tax relief, even though the bill has language to prevent that. He’ll also claim suspending the gas tax would jeopardize transportation projects, when it’s clear that the money to keep those projects would simply be shifted from the general fund (which can afford it, due to consistently strong revenue collections).
The governor’s attitude is disappointing but not surprising, knowing his disdain for fossil fuels. Did you know the new transportation package pushed through in Olympia this year won’t just mean more bicycle lanes, and free transit for children, but it also says all vehicles of model year 2030 or later that are sold, purchased, or registered in the state must be electric?
School safety in our state: Following the horrible killing of students and teachers at the elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, I’d expect Washington parents to wonder where our state’s K-12 schools are on keeping students safe.
Since 2002, each public school has been required to have a comprehensive “safe school plan.” The underlying legislation, which cites the terrorist attacks of 9/11, describes these plans as “being of paramount importance,” saying they “will help to assure students, parents, guardians, school employees, and school administrators that our schools provide the safest possible learning environment.”
Legislation passed in 2019 required the creation of a statewide network for school safety, a school safety and student well-being advisory committee, school-based threat assessment program, school safety data collection and monitoring program, first responder building mapping information system and more.
Budgets routinely include money for school safety, going to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction – the state’s K-12 education department – and the Criminal Justice Training Commission, which provides training. The OSPI website has a page with more detail about “all matters related to comprehensive school safety and student well-being.” Click here for it.
News reports and commentary related to Uvalde have raised questions about the “hardening” of schools and whether schools have unspent money related to COVID that could be used for increasing security. I encourage parents to reach out to their child’s school and ask about its safe school plan. You have a right to know what steps are taken to keep students safe.
‘It’s like Independence Day for criminals,’ says Spokane County sheriff: Sure enough, the senseless mass killings in Buffalo, N.Y. on May 14 and the Uvalde, Texas school 10 days later had many politicians – including Washington’s attorney general – calling loudly for new gun-control laws.
Here’s my question: What’s wrong with discouraging the theft of firearms (primarily handguns) that end up being used in most of the almost-daily shootings in our state that generate fewer headlines but end more lives? I say this because the majority party in our Legislature has shown no real interest in my SB 5407, which would impose longer prison sentences for stealing a firearm. It’s long past time to hold the criminal accountable!
Along that same line, why don’t we hear these politicians talk as forcefully about the changes in law that have contributed to the obvious decline in public safety? It was refreshing to read this take on the situation from the Spokane County sheriff. He is absolutely correct to point out the hypocrisy of those who wring their hands about gun violence at the same time that they want to weaken or eliminate the sentencing “enhancements” tied to the use of a firearm during a crime. Such a bill was passed by the House this year and stalled just one step away from a Senate vote.
No gas heat for new homes? Speaking of hypocrisy, how about this: Our state has a shortage of housing, especially “affordable” housing, yet Governor Inslee is orchestrating actions that would make housing even more unaffordable.
The Legislature declined to pass a bill, introduced at the governor’s request, intended to “limit and reduce the use of fossil fuels for space and water heating.” It would basically have prohibited the use of natural gas for heat in new commercial and residential buildings, and presumably (and expectedly) make the construction of such buildings more expensive – which in turn affects rental or purchase costs. House Bill 1084 barely moved forward in 2021, and not at all in 2022.
A bill to give the State Building Code Council more authority over the state energy code also failed in 2022. I’m a non-voting member of the council, whose members are appointed by the governor.
In April a majority of the council members who can vote approved part of what Inslee wants: a ban on natural gas heat in new commercial buildings. The Association of Washington Business posted a detailed report on that here. Now the council is looking at the other part, concerning residential-home construction. This is clearly being done with the knowledge that there is no support from a majority of legislators.
I’ve objected to this very publicly, because the council members aren’t elected and therefore are unaccountable. The governor obviously thought this energy-code question was a matter for the legislative branch, and I believe it still should be. It was wrong of him to do an “end run” and turn to the building code council for a bailout after he failed to convince even the members of his own party to go along.
Hanging over all this is how Inslee stacked the council membership to get the result he wanted. That’s detailed here by the Washington Policy Center. You know who gets stuck paying the $70,000 settlement agreed to by the governor? That’s right, the taxpayers.
Regulations that make it more expensive to build condominiums or apartments or other dwellings aren’t a logical path to affordable housing. And at a time when trust in government is already low, the governor’s manipulating doesn’t help.
I’m your senator year-round, not just when the Legislature is in session. I appreciated all the messages that came in during this year’s session — keep them coming!
Yours in service,
To read this e-newsletter in other languages, click here to visit my Senate news page and find the “Select Language” menu in the upper left corner!