E-Newsletter: Your response to my survey

Hello Friends and Neighbors,

The budget Governor Inslee submitted to the Legislature in December included the income-tax proposal that became Senate Bill 5096. When the Senate Democrats bring out their proposed operating budget this Thursday, will it incorporate the income tax somehow? Even though no revenue from the tax could possibly be connected until right before the 2021-23 budget expires? We’ll have to wait and see how my counterpart on the Senate Ways and Means Committee handles that.

Meanwhile, SB 5096 is continuing its journey through the legislative process. The bill received a public hearing before the House Finance Committee earlier this week. The deadline for all committee action on that bill is two weeks from now. I fully expect the income-tax bill will keep moving, even though there are BILLION$ and BILLION$ of reasons it should be set aside. Keep reading for my report about why the new state revenue forecast should end all discussion of imposing an income tax.

I’d like to know what you think!
What are your views about the proposed income tax and two other issues that are very timely? Click here to participate in a survey that should take only a couple of minutes to complete!

If the state can’t live within its means now, the problem isn’t a lack of money – it’s too much spending
It’s remarkable to consider what Washington’s economy has been through lately, as reflected in state government’s quarterly revenue forecasts. The governor’s stay-home order of a year ago, combined with his shutdown of businesses he labeled “non-essential,” led to a very dark second-quarter forecast in June. Those numbers had us anticipating a massive budget deficit – to the tune of almost $9 billion – when 2021 rolled around.

Normally the rear wall of the Senate chamber serves as a sort of reader board, displaying information about the bill being debated. This year COVID-19 restrictions have added something: When senators are speaking remotely during floor debate, a projected video feed allows the Senate’s presiding officer to see them.

Although government restrictions on economic activity continued (as they do to this day, but hopefully not much longer), the state’s financial picture began to improve steadily – a testament to the resiliency of Washington employers.

The first revenue forecast for this year was released Wednesday by the Economic and Revenue Forecast Council (ERFC), of which I’m a member. Appropriately, it was St. Patrick’s Day… because the prediction was for an unprecedented amount of green! The surprisingly large increases of $3.3 billion through the current two-year budget cycle and $5.2 billion over the next four years represent the largest single-quarter jump on record. Any talk of a deficit is history.

Between its own revenue and the many billions in even more federal money, state government has more cash than anyone could have ever anticipated a year ago. As I said to my fellow ERFC members, if we can’t live within our means now, we have a spending problem.

Click here to read the public statement I made as a council member and as budget leader for the Senate Republican Caucus.

Will legislators make drug possession a crime again?
My concern for public safety led to an appointment to the Senate Law and Justice Committee during my first term as a senator. I appreciated being the only member of the committee without a law degree, because it allowed me to bring a sort of “outsider” perspective to our work. I would have remained on Law and Justice if it wasn’t for the time demands of my new job as lead Republican on the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

On February 25, a full 10 days after Law and Justice and the other Senate policy committees had to wrap up their work on Senate bills, the state Supreme Court surprised the Legislature with its ruling in a case known as State v. Blake. A Spokane resident, Shannon Blake, had been arrested in 2016 for possession of methamphetamine; her defense was that she didn’t know the drugs were in a pocket of clothing loaned to her by a friend.

The case reached the state’s highest court, which overturned Blake’s conviction – even though a court of appeals had affirmed the decision made at the county level. In doing so, by a 5-4 verdict, the justices also invalidated the state’s felony drug-possession law.

On the surface, the problem would seem to be that the now-invalid law didn’t require prosecutors to prove that someone knowingly or intentionally possessed drugs. A closer look at the court ruling suggests it is instead critical about the Legislature’s intent in creating the law – even though that would seem apparent. It’s about public safety!

I can’t believe the Legislature won’t come up with a fix for this, considering the ruling is causing local law-enforcement agencies to stop making drug arrests. Also, the fallout is expected to be very expensive, between the need for resentencing, other court hearings, and creating enough courtroom space to handle the affected convictions.

I’m very concerned about those currently in custody who will simply be released under this decision – and their potential impact on public safety. And what about those that are trying to better their lives through the Drug Court Program? The rug has been pulled out from under them with no help in sight. I’m co-sponsoring a bipartisan bill that would help; it’s been referred to Law and Justice but so far, there’s no public hearing planned. I know that committee is busy considering bills passed by the House, but still, I have to believe its Democrat leaders could find time to respond to such a huge decision.

17th District town hall attracts ‘virtual’ roomful!
While I sure hope our next 17th District town hall can be in person, Monday evening’s “virtual” meeting was a clear success. Representative Harris, Representative Kraft, and I took turns fielding questions for more than an hour via Zoom.

There was a lot of interest in state government’s financial situation, and about the reopening of our state, but the discussion also ranged from elections to the Second Amendment to climate change and many topics in between.

Since COVID restrictions have hindered your ability to connect with us – and our ability to fully represent you – we chose to let the meeting run long to continue the robust conversation and gather as much of your feedback as possible to further inform the decisions we make on your behalf. If you attended and your question didn’t get answered, I hope you will email me!

Thank you so much to all who attended. We appreciate hearing from you. If you missed it, we hope to hold another Town Hall sometime after the session adjourns.

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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