E-Newsletter: Washington… WE HAVE A BUDGET!

Hello Friends and Neighbors,

In odd-numbered years like this, one of the Legislature’s highest priorities is to adopt three new state budgets. The operating budget covers the cost of running most state agencies, along with the services and programs they offer, and is by far the largest of the three.

The governor is required by law to propose an operating budget ahead of each legislative session, but we usually don’t see another operating-budget proposal emerge until late March, after the first of the year’s quarterly state revenue forecasts has arrived. In that sense, the release of an operating-budget proposal by our Senate Republican Caucus this week is newsworthy – and that’s only part of the story. More exciting info on that below!

Because our state constitution predates the establishment of the Presidents Day holiday, Monday will be a workday for legislators. It also happens to be the first deadline of the 2021 session – the “cutoff” for policy committees in the Senate to take action on Senate bills. Our budget committees get an additional week to wrap up their work, and I see our Ways and Means Committee already has more than 120 bills to consider! There are going to be long days ahead, but as I’ve mentioned before, I knew that when I accepted the appointment as Republican leader on the committee.

Senate Republicans unveil budget to help state restart and recover, in a reasonable and responsible way
I was appointed budget leader for the Senate Republican Caucus a little more than a week before Governor Inslee released his budget proposals in December. It was disappointing that he continued his streak of introducing biennial budgets that include tax increases. At the time I noted it was “hard to tell from his budget proposal that our state is still dealing with a pandemic, because he’s again looking for billions in new spending and making another run at imposing unpopular taxes that were failures even before COVID-19 came along.”

To view our budget news conference click on the image!

When this session began, the majority Democrats started pushing their own tax proposals, claiming new taxes are needed for all sorts of reasons: to avoid a deficit, to provide assistance for small businesses, to keep people from going hungry, to support schools, and more. I knew better, so I decided to put together a budget myself and see just what could be done working within the revenue we have available – funding from the feds, money from the state rainy-day fund, and the money already expected from existing taxes.

For most of the past five weeks I have worked quietly to craft the “Restart & Recover… Responsibly” budget we unveiled yesterday. The package features incentives to get kids back to classrooms so schools can restart, assistance to help our economy recover, plus changes that would reinvigorate our manufacturing sector and eliminate the excuse for the Democrats’ proposed transportation fee and gas-tax hikes. Because it would do these things and much more within the available revenue, the Senate Republican budget exposes the Democrats’ false claims that more taxes are required – and our budget doesn’t even factor in the additional revenue we expect from the March forecast.

Putting our budget on the table this soon also makes for more transparency, because the public will have weeks to examine it before we see a proposal from the Senate majority. Here’s more information about our proposal. I hope you’ll look at it and contact with me with your questions or opinions.

Southwest region reaches next phase of reopening, but what’s next?
I’m glad the governor is finally allowing the Southwest region of our state to advance to Phase 2 of his latest reopening plan. It’s good news for the employers who will finally be able to welcome customers back inside, but it’s still frustrating when put in perspective.

Using restaurants as an example, Phase 2 of Inslee’s original restart plan allowed indoor dining at up to 50% capacity. The new Phase 2 gets them only half of that. And yet the Senate’s Democratic majority has consistently blocked our efforts to get all of Washington into Phase 2, through the bipartisan SB 5114 I’m co-sponsoring. Why do our colleagues across the aisle seem so untrusting of business owners who have no incentive to put their employees and customers at risk?

I feel especially bad for the one region that will be stuck in the more restrictive Phase 1 for another two weeks: the South Central region, which stretches from the Kittitas County line at the top of Snoqualmie Pass southeast through the Yakima and Columbia valleys and the Tri-Cities into Walla Walla County. My friend Sen. Sharon Brown of Kennewick called it “heartbreaking” that the South Central region continues to be on the outside looking in. She’s called on the governor to immediately make more vaccines and additional resources available to the region. Let’s see if and how he responds.

My question is: What happens in two weeks when the next judgment is rendered by the governor? When he was asked directly in a press conference about what Phase 3 looks like and when to expect it, he had no clue. I hope it’s at least 50% capacity, just so these businesses have a chance to get back to where they were in early November. But it’s really concerning that we don’t know what the next part of the “roadmap” looks like.

Pandemic-relief bill finally gets through Legislature
On Wednesday a majority in the Senate approved a pandemic-relief bill that amounts to a pass-through of $2.2 billion in federal money. It will do a lot of good, and I’m glad the amount of assistance for small businesses was doubled to $240 million at the request I made on behalf of Senate Republicans. I’m also glad the Legislature got to have a say in how this additional federal money is allocated. Governor Inslee had prevented us from being involved as he doled out the $3.6 billion of federal CARES Act money received last summer, and only directed a paltry 8% of that toward aiding struggling businesses.

I voted for the package but was disappointed that the Democratic majority blocked every single amendment Republicans proposed. Two were mine. One would have appropriated an additional $156 million toward getting kids back into classrooms, with the funds tied to reopening, and the second would have funded a COVID-19 telephone hotline to help seniors and others actually make appointments for vaccinations. The excuse was that changing the bill would mean sending it back to the House, and take too much time. That seemed like a weak excuse considering it had taken five weeks to get the “early action” bill this far. But the bill is now on the governor’s desk.

Why the fear about discussing limits on emergency orders?
The legislative and executive branches are co-equal under Washington’s constitution. Why should the legislative branch be required to yield its authority to the executive branch especially in cases when lives and livelihoods are most affected?

More than once this session I’ve heard the Senate majority leader say he wants to have discussions. I’m ready to make the case for my bipartisan SB 5039 — to discuss how it would fix the inequity in the emergency-powers law. Who could be afraid of that? Apparently, the majority party?

Those are among the questions I raise in a guest column published this week in The Chronicle newspaper, in Lewis County. Look for it soon in The Reflector of Battle Ground.

Yours in service,

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