E-Newsletter: Squandering a golden opportunity to provide meaningful tax relief…

Feb. 25, 2022

Hello Friends and Neighbors,

We learned this week what the Senate majority intends to do with the $15 BILLION surplus in the state treasury – and if you were hoping all that extra money meant there would be some kind of meaningful tax relief coming your way, I have unfortunate news. That is not what the Democrats have in mind.

The Legislature is in the middle of another set of the deadlines that determine whether bills continue moving forward. Yesterday was the “cutoff” for action by Senate policy committees on legislation sent over by the House. Monday is the deadline for the Senate budget committees to do the same. Then it’s back to the floor of the Senate chamber for voting on the House bills that survived the committee process.

Let me share one item of news involving a topic that is outside the Legislature but has certainly generated a lot of messages to my office: the possibility that children would be required to have the COVID vaccination to attend Washington schools. Yesterday a technical advisory group that was assigned to come up with a recommendation for the State Board of Health voted 7-6 (with 4 others voting “unsure”) against adding a COVID shot to the list of mandatory immunizations.

To me, it’s the right response. If the state is going to start managing COVID like an endemic instead of a pandemic, and the flu is an example of an endemic, and no one is required to get a flu shot – it stands to reason that students shouldn’t have to get a COVID shot either.

We need to keep in mind that state law gives the board the authority to add a vaccine to the list, by adopting an administrative rule. It doesn’t matter what an advisory group may decide. That said, it was agreed when the board created the COVID-19 technical advisory group that the group’s deliberations would operate on the understanding that religious, medical, philosophical, and personal exemptions would all be available. In other words, the group’s advice to not expand the vaccine list was made with the recognition that parents would have broad authority to opt their kids out.

It’s also worth noting the board has never added a vaccine to the list on its own, after an advisory group has recommended against doing so.

I will stay engaged on this issue!

Majority keeps emergency-powers bill alive – for now
The House committee on state government held a public hearing Monday on the emergency-powers bill passed by the Senate majority. By now, the public has figured out how weak SB 5909 is, and the testimony reflected that. “Critics testify against what they call emergency powers reform in name only” was an accurate headline.

On Wednesday the committee moved the bill forward, but only after adding a technical amendment to it. It’s a minor change in wording that would affect the handling of unspent federal money received because of a state of emergency – and has nothing to do with emergency orders or ending a state of emergency.

I don’t know if the bill will be brought up for a floor vote by the full House. But what I do know is if the House passes the bill with the change made by the committee, it would have to come back to the Senate for consideration of that change. The majority may decide just to let the bill “die” instead. The “cutoff” for a vote by the full House is a week from today, so we’ll know more then.

Yesterday I appeared on TVW’s “Inside Olympia” program, opposite the Senate Democrats’ budget leader, to talk about her side’s budget proposal. It was a surprise to hear her suggest that all tax cuts are “gimmicks” to some degree. Click here to watch our exchange.

A $15 BILLION surplus, and still no meaningful tax relief?
Last year the Legislature passed the three budgets for 2021-23; adjustments to those budgets will be made this year, through what are called “supplemental” budgets.

On Monday morning the Senate Democrats unveiled their proposed supplement to the operating budget. As I suspected, it offered no real tax relief, despite adding $5 billion in new spending. After several hours of debating and voting on amendments, they moved it through our Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday.

Today, after we spent still more hours debating and voting on floor amendments – proposed mostly by Republicans, in hopes of adding some real tax relief to the budget – the majority approved its budget. Senate Bill 5693 left the Senate chamber still lacking any significant tax relief. Documents related to the budget package can be found here.

It is completely reasonable to think the people of the 17th District and our state would look at a $15 billion surplus and think that maybe some meaningful tax relief is coming their direction. Under the majority’s budget, however, the answer is no.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some good things in this budget. For example, the Senate supported my request for a $1.9 million appropriation to help deliver on the promise of the Tiffany Hill Act, by helping all Washington counties cover the cost of the real-time victim notification technology authorized by the law. I appreciated the support and the opportunity to speak about Tiffany Hill again – she’s still serving!

Then again, there should be good things, considering all the new spending that would bring the total 2021-23 budget up to nearly $64 billion. That’s a 21% increase from the previous two-year budget!

I support new investments in behavioral health, for instance, and the idea of transferring money for transportation purposes. Republicans would do such a transfer in a more effective fashion than this budget proposes, but it’s a start.

Still, having a $15 billion surplus allows legislators to make good investments and offer tax relief. There really is no good excuse for not doing both, as I pointed out in a statement earlier in the week.

I’m particularly disappointed that the Senate budget falls short on things that should be priorities: public safety, affordability, public trust.

Can someone explain how the new money for the Department of Corrections is supposed to make people feel safer? And what about funding the policy that could put rapists and murderers back on the street sooner? The majority could have supported legislation that would help our counties and cities hire more law-enforcement officers. But the obvious conclusion is that safer streets are not enough of a priority for our Democratic colleagues.

The Senate budget also doesn’t get at the affordability crisis in our state. There’s a $15 billion surplus and the majority proposes – only as an afterthought, through amendment made in the budget committee on Wednesday – free access to state parks and public lands, and free admission to county and state fairs, but only for one year!

Then there’s the issue of trust. When asked by a reporter on Monday why their proposal didn’t include serious tax reform, the Senate majority budget leaders said substantial tax relief would threaten the sustainability of the majority’s budget. That’s quite a claim. How is it that tax relief would create a sustainability issue… but a 21% increase in spending would not?

What about state government’s paramount duty, to provide for K-12? This budget keeps K-12 funding below 50% of the general fund. Can parents look at the funding choices and trust that they will help address the learning loss that is finally being acknowledged?

My Democratic counterpart on the budget committee says the majority’s supplemental operating budget does things “strategically.” I don’t question that there is a strategy behind the choices. I just wish it leaned more in favor of the people and less in favor of government.

Because the Democrats’ budget ignores a golden opportunity to provide meaningful tax relief, I would not support it. We can and should do better for the people of our state.

Senate backs money for study of third bridge
A month ago I had filed legislation to direct our state’s Joint Transportation Committee to study a third bridge across the Columbia. The Senate Transportation Committee didn’t take action on SB 5934 in time, so I went to Plan B: offer the same request as an amendment to the 2021-23 supplemental transportation budget. It worked!

The Senate took up the supplemental transportation budget after passing the supplemental operating budget this evening. I wasn’t surprised when SB 5689 passed easily, with a strong bipartisan vote, because this budget simply appropriates money – there’s no new funding source involved. My amendment would appropriate $300,000 for the study.

My 17th District survey had included a question about when to start looking seriously at a third bridge, and more than half of those responding agreed with what this policy will do.

Yours in service,

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