E-Newsletter: Hoping your Easter is happy and blessed!

During this virtual session, most senators speak from the “floor” of the Senate as a projection on the front and back of the chamber, as I did during yesterday’s budget debate.

Hello Friends and Neighbors,

The 2021 session crossed the three-quarters mark this week, and the big news is the Senate’s passage of two budgets… budgets that could hardly be more different, as I’ll explain.

Today brings another of the session’s major deadlines. A week ago it was for Senate policy committees to complete work on House-approved bills, this time it’s for the Senate fiscal committees to do the same. After today, our work will be on the virtual “floor” for the remainder of the session, which is scheduled to end April 25.

You may remember how the session’s most controversial tax proposal – on the income from capital gains – was brought up for a vote in the full Senate on a Saturday. Well, we’re going to see a repeat of sorts tomorrow, when the majority brings its “cap and tax” energy tax to the floor for a vote. Why hold votes on controversial taxes on Saturdays, and this time on Easter weekend? I’ll suggest the answer to that is another question: Do you follow the news as closely on a weekend?

See the results of my recent online survey below!

Senate majority votes to raise taxes, drain rainy-day fund in operating budget
My report a week ago mentioned how it was good to see the proposed 2021-23 Democratic budget reflect some of the same smart choices made in the budget Senate Republicans offered eight weeks ago. Those include historical investments in services for people with developmental disabilities, better access to broadband, and strong support for improving forest health.

The trouble is, a vote for the good things 😊 in the $59.5 billion Democratic budget is also a vote for the bad ones ☹ –

  • emptying the rainy-day fund of the $2 billion in it;
  • and… the proposed state income tax (SB 5096, which is awaiting a House vote);
  • and… the proposed cap-and-tax policy that is basically a very complicated gas-tax increase.

None of those moves make any sense, knowing how the state’s financial outlook improved by many billions of dollars in mid-March due to the latest federal stimulus package and the latest very positive state revenue forecast.

During yesterday’s budget debate I offered up the $55.5 billion, no-new-tax Republican alternative, which would bring much-needed property-tax relief, unprecedented support for Washington manufacturing, and finally an end to the upward spiral of the state gas tax. Unfortunately, it didn’t change minds across the aisle.

Earlier this week my Democratic colleagues spoke of “meeting the moment” through their budget. But we keep listening to the people, and after what they’ve endured for more than a year, they expect their legislators to do more this session than just deal with the challenges of the present. They also want to see ideas that reach toward the future, not new ways of reaching deeper into their pockets. Republicans offered the combination of stability and foresight the people of our state deserve. It’s too bad only two Democrats sided with us, in the end.

Capital budget wins unanimous Senate support
Although Republicans and Democrats often disagree on the operating budget, the capital budget typically receives strong bipartisan support – and sometimes the vote is unanimous, as it was for the 2021-23 proposal this week.

The capital budget includes appropriations for a broad range of construction and repair projects involving: K-12 schools; state office buildings; colleges and universities; prisons and juvenile rehabilitation facilities; parks and recreational facilities; affordable housing for low-income persons and people with special needs; water quality, water supply, and flood risk reduction infrastructure; and other capital facilities and programs. Revenue sources for the capital budget include proceeds from trust-land management (such as the logging of state-managed timber) and the sale of bonds.

One of the big-ticket items in this year’s Senate capital budget is broadband access. I chose to include broadband in the Senate Republican operating budget put forward in February, but the Democrat majority opted to put $490 million for broadband access in their capital budget. That’s acceptable.

K-12 school construction and modernization is always a priority in the capital budget, and the Senate capital budget would provide $907.4 million in bond proceeds and $40.2 million in other funds for public-school buildings and facilities. The spending plan includes:

  • $837.3 million for the School Construction Assistance Program (SCAP), with $781.7 million dedicated to fund 36 construction and renovation projects in 29 school districts;
  • $47.2 million for modernization grants to small school districts;
  • $14.2 million for skills centers;
  • $10 million to the school district health and safety grants program to address health and safety issues, equal access and emergency repairs; and,
  • $51.6 million for construction of new education facilities for those with disabilities.

The Senate capital budget also offers $1.51 billion in total appropriations and alternative financing authority for higher-education facilities, including $1.06 billion of state bond proceeds. Of the total spending authority, $963 million is provided for Washington’s four-year institutions – that includes WSU Vancouver — and $551 million for the community and technical college system, which includes Clark College.

The capital-budget funding list for projects in the 17th District is headed by $52.6 million for the new Life Sciences Building at WSU-Vancouver (money for its design was approved in the 2020 capital budget); $1.9 million for wastewater infrastructure in Battle Ground; and $555 million for the Cascadia Tech Academy, which is Clark County’s skills center.

Finally, my proposals on emergency powers and the right to in-person education come before the Senate
I’ve mentioned how Senate Bill 5039, my bill to give the legislative branch the power to review all of the governor’s emergency proclamations, has been completely ignored by the Senate majority all session long. Yesterday I offered an amendment to the Senate budget that would fund the implementation of SB 5039, which meant the majority had no choice but to vote. Only two of my Democratic colleagues joined Republicans in supporting the amendment.

SB 5039 wouldn’t take any of the governor’s powers away (other legislators have proposed bills to do that). My bill would simply assert the authority of the legislative branch to act as more of a check on the executive, which is right in line with the constitutional separation of powers. I still can’t believe so many Democratic senators are willing to let our legislative session end without even making a change as reasonable as that.

Speaking of emergency powers, Governor Inslee was asked point-blank by a reporter Wednesday when the state of emergency he declared on Feb. 29, 2020 will end. “I can’t tell you,” he replied. Before other reporters could pick up on that line of questioning, the press conference was abruptly ended.

Senate Bill 5464, my bill to give Washington’s K-12 students a legal right to in-person instruction, has also been ignored since I introduced it more than five weeks ago. I realize the governor has finally ordered schools to reopen, so SB 5464 has less immediate value, but it has plenty of long-term value.

Yesterday Senate Republican Leader John Braun of Lewis County offered a budget amendment that would fund the implementation of SB 5464; the Democratic majority turned it down, which was another disappointment. Why can’t state law require schools to offer classroom instruction unless prohibited by the governor, the secretary of health of a local health officer?

I did get a win with another budget amendment, however. The Democratic budget chair agreed with my suggestion to make sure funding from the proposed American Jobs Plan (the $2 trillion plan unveiled by President Biden on Wednesday) would be handled by the Legislature through the appropriations process, not the “unanticipated receipts” process that allowed the governor to completely control the distribution of billions of dollars received from the feds in 2020. My amendment passed, and sets an important precedent.

Survey says…
My online survey received nearly 500 responses. Thanks to everyone who took a few minutes to participate! Here are the results. Your responses continue to tell me what you’ve told me before.

Question 1

A bill requested by Governor Inslee to create a state tax on “capital gains” income was recently passed by the Senate majority. Revenue from the tax would not be available until spring 2023. No taxes would be reduced or repealed by SB 5096. An income tax has been considered unconstitutional in Washington since a state Supreme Court ruling in 1933. It is inevitable that the law would be challenged in court if passed. Supporters say the tax would affect only the ultra-wealthy, reform an upside-down tax code and help jump-start the post-COVID economy. Opponents say the tax won’t help with economic recovery, isn’t needed because the state’s financial condition is strong, would hurt the state’s ability to attract employers and would easily be expanded into a general income tax. Should SB 5096 become law?

Question 2

A bill requested by Governor Inslee to change fuel standards was recently passed by the House. Supporters say HB 1091 would reduce carbon emissions and have fuel purchasers subsidize the electrification of transportation. Opponents say the bill is a regressive policy that would cost lower-income people more, without a measurable improvement in Washington’s air quality. They also say it would drive up the price of gasoline by 57 cents per gallon, and diesel by 63 cents, which would increase the cost of many goods and services. Should House Bill 1091 become law?

Question 3

As explained in my March 19 e-newsletter, the state Supreme Court’s February 25 ruling in State v. Blake overturned Washington’s felony drug-possession law. What should the Legislature do in response?

I hope your Easter is happy and blessed, and that you are able to spend this special time with loved ones. I’m sorry I can’t invite you to come and visit me at the Capitol, but if you have a question or concern, please contact me by email, letter or phone. To make an appointment for a virtual meeting, please sent me an e-mail! Stay safe!

Yours in service,

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