Hello Friends and Neighbors,
By the time the 2020 legislative session ended, the governor had already declared a state of emergency because of COVID-19. I and other legislators got so busy responding to his emergency proclamations that things didn’t slow down for months.
When this year’s regular legislative session ended, about six weeks ago, the governor’s emergency declaration was STILL in effect. And he is STILL issuing emergency proclamations that deserve a response – like the recent proclamation that would basically force employers to become the “vaccine police.”
Here’s a brief update on some things that have happened since the Legislature adjourned… and notice of a meeting in our area next Monday, which concerns residents of our 17th Legislative District and others in the 3rd Congressional District.
A “vaccination passport” for workers? Employers have nothing to gain if their workers or customers become ill. Ever since Governor Inslee declared a state of emergency, I and other Republicans – unlike him – believed employers in our state would take the steps necessary to protect anyone who entered their place of business, as well as their employees, without needing a government mandate.
It was good news when the governor dropped his mask mandate in mid-May. Finally, Washington employers had more control over their own safety standards than they’d had in over a year. The trouble is, that freedom lasted barely a week before a new mandate came, in the form of “guidance” from the state Department of Labor and Industries. This “guidance,” which comes with the threat of fines or loss of business license, is quite a conundrum for employers – it puts them in the position of having to break federal HIPAA laws and become the “vaccine police.”
I view this as burdensome, intrusive, unnecessary and illegal. So do my Republican colleagues from our legislative district and the neighboring 18th Legislative District. We explain why in this guest column – and how part of the answer is emergency-powers reform like I proposed in Senate Bill 5039.
Governor breaks trust with vetoes of high-profile bills – Two of the most controversial bills passed during our 2021 session were what we called the “cap-and-tax” bill (SB 5126) and “high-cost” fuel standard (HB 1091). I’ve reported on them before – together they could raise the cost of gas by $2.41 per gallon, without any of that going toward better and safer roads. Similar bills have failed to advance in years past, and the outcome would have been the same this year if not for what my Democrat colleagues called a “grand bargain.”
Basically, some Democrat legislators who want a new transportation-tax package agreed to vote for SB 5126 and HB 1091 on one condition: that the bills be tied to the passage of such a package. However, the governor basically derailed the so-called bargain with what are known as partial vetoes. He specifically took out the language that would have delayed the implementation of these new laws until the gas tax went up by a nickel or more.
A full veto keeps an entire bill from becoming law. As the name implies, a partial veto allows the remainder of the legislation to become law, but Washington’s constitution forbids a partial veto if it affects less than an entire section of a bill. The governor’s partial veto of HB 1091 took out only a subsection, which is clearly unconstitutional. It was surprising, too, because the Legislature took him to court two years ago for vetoing less than a section of another bill. A Thurston County court ruled against the governor on that. What does it say if his own political party takes him to court again, and the taxpayers get stuck with the tab for another costly lawsuit?
The governor vetoed two sections of SB 5126 – a bill that allows the state to auction off permits that allow businesses to emit carbon. One section was the link to a future gas-tax increase, the other had to do with consulting tribal officials about “climate projects” to be funded under the new law. Both of those partial vetoes seem to be legal, but they certainly caused feelings of betrayal, as this newspaper report details.
If the governor’s actions make it harder to pass a gas-tax increase, that’s OK with me. The Senate Republican budget I put together during this year’s session included a sensible new way to fund transportation projects without a new tax or an increase in the gas tax. It’s disappointing that my colleagues in the majority won’t give serious consideration to the policy in SB 5359.
Why not reopen now instead of waiting for June 30? When Governor Inslee dropped his mask mandate in mid-May, he also announced our state would reopen June 30 – and sooner, if 70% of state residents 16 and older received at least one COVID-19 vaccination.
I thought June 15 would be a better reopening date, as that’s the day California had set for reopening (it’s one of the five states in the “Western states pact” that was supposedly in lock step on responding to the pandemic). Along with a bipartisan group of legislators, I wrote to Governor Inslee and made the case for fully reopening then. Click here to read the letter.
At his June 3 news conference on COVID-19, the governor and the secretary of health both said our state is doing “very well” on vaccinations, with 63% of those 16 and older having at least one vaccination. And he’s vowed to reopen the state June 30 even if his 70% target hasn’t been reached by then. So why wait at all? And why spend taxpayer funds on prizes for a “vaccine lottery” (get the details at this link) if our state is doing so well already?
New budget to take effect July 1; new income tax attracts two lawsuits – State government’s budget cycle begins July 1 and runs two years. When the 2021-23 operating budget was signed this past month, I pointed out how the big new taxes it contains are unnecessary from a fiscal standpoint, seeing how revenue collections for April were coming in $266 million higher than projected (keep reading for the latest about revenue collections). The budget does have some good things, as I noted in this statement to the news media, but those are outweighed by regressive policies as well as the unnecessary tax increases.
One of those big new taxes will be on the income from capital gains. Its signing was “nothing to celebrate,” as I wrote here, and since then, the new tax has drawn criticism from major newspapers in the state (examples are here, from The Seattle Times, and here from the Tri-City Herald). It’s also attracted not one legal challenge, as predicted, but two – one after the tax legislation was signed and another filed beforehand.
Revenue collections continue to exceed expectations – The state Economic and Revenue Forecast Council, which I belong to as Republican leader on the Senate Ways and Means Committee, met this morning to receive the latest economic review from the state’s non-partisan chief economist. It’s quarterly, like the state revenue forecast.
In April, as I mentioned above, revenue collections were running significantly ahead of expectations, and the latest numbers have them $345 million above expectations. That’s 9.9% for the quarter!
As I expected, the review offered a mixed bag. While first-quarter housing construction in our state reached a 43-year high, and spending by Washington consumers continues to exceed the last pre-pandemic month (January 2020), small-business revenue is still below where it was in January 2020 (that’s true nationally as well). And still, there’s a higher unemployment rate — at the same time businesses can’t find people to hire. Things that make you go… hmmm.
All of this goes to show, again, how unnecessary the new taxes in the majority’s budget are. The state’s second-quarter revenue forecast will be presented to our council in two weeks.
Even more reasons to be concerned about upcoming payroll tax – Hats off to the non-partisan Washington Policy Center for digging into the many problems surrounding what’s formally known as the Long-Term Services and Supports Trust.
I’ve reported before on this new long-term care entitlement program, established by partisan legislation in 2019, and how it will be funded by a new payroll tax – a tax NO worker in Washington can opt out of, after November 1 of this year.
The stated intent of the entitlement program is to make sure people have at least some level of coverage should they need long-term care. That sounds noble enough, until you get into the details, like how someone would pay this tax their whole working lives but receive zero benefit if they choose to retire to another state.
The opt-out part is particularly frustrating, because the only way to be exempt from the tax is to prove to the state that you already have private long-term care coverage – yet the state doesn’t even have an exemption form available for you to fill out. The website for the program admits it (see the highlighted text below; click here to visit the website)!
How are workers supposed to buy their own coverage now if they must wait until at least October to learn whether the state will grant them the payroll-tax exemption?
I’ll have more on this in upcoming reports. In the meantime, click here for the latest findings from the Washington Policy Center.
Coming June 14: Public meeting about new boundaries for our 3rd Congressional District! Every 10 years, after the latest U.S. Census, an independent commission convenes to modify the boundaries of our state’s 49 legislative districts and 10 congressional districts. This commission was created under Washington’s constitution, thanks to an amendment approved by the voters in 1983. With one exception, the commission has always had different members because of the long gaps in the redistricting process.
Because people move in and out of and around our state, the population within a particular legislative district changes over the years between the census-taking. The goal of redistricting is to adjust boundaries so all legislative districts across the state again contain the same number of people – and the same goes for congressional districts.
The independent, bipartisan makeup of this redistricting commission has done much to take politics out of the process. Still, the goal is to have a Legislature that is truly representative of the people. That can depend a great deal on how the lines are redrawn. If you believe the best public policy comes from closer to the political center, instead of the edges, then you can understand why this process is so important.
I encourage the people of our district to visit the redistricting commission website to learn how they can offer input, and to convey the importance of having district boundaries that are fair and reasonable. For details about next Monday’s meeting, which is specifically about modifying the boundaries of the 3rd District, visit this web page.
If you have a question or concern, please contact me by email, letter or phone. To make an appointment for a virtual meeting, please send me an e-mail! Stay safe!
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!