Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The 2021 virtual session is quickly coming to a close. With only three weeks left, we're spending long days, late evenings, and most weekends on the House floor debating and voting on bills.
Along with several policy bills, both chambers have approved their versions of the state's two-year operating, transportation, and capital budgets. Similar to other legislative proposals, these spending plans are separate bills that need approval by the full Legislature before being delivered to the governor for signature.
The majority party, who controls the legislative agenda—including the appointment of budget negotiators—enjoys significant advantages in this process. Now that the proposals have all been approved by their respective chambers, Democratic leaders from the Senate, House, and the governor's office will go through the various proposals line-by-line and decide what stays and what goes. Before the final gavel on Sunday, April 25, both chambers will be given a last opportunity to weigh in and vote on the finalized budget plans.
In the House, the debate over the proposed operating budget was particularly intense. The operating budget funds the day-to-day operations of the state, including K-12 education, health and human services, criminal justice, natural resources, and others.
Although the House proposed 2021-23 transportation and capital budgets were somewhat bipartisan, the operating budget was more one-sided. At more than $58 billion, the enormity of the proposed House operating budget and its dependence on a capital gains income tax kicked off a spirited debate.
Where's the state's financial emergency?
Although the pandemic affected the finances of countless Washingtonians, state tax revenue collections are in an upswing. Frankly, the majority party's labeling of the proposed capital gains income tax as the answer to a financial state of “emergency” is offensive. Where's the emergency?
State government has made it through the pandemic unscathed. Budget writers had more than $4.3 billion in surplus state revenue to work with this year. Not only have tax collections rebounded to pre-COVID levels, they've grown by 13.6%. Combined with more than $24 billion in federal stimulus funds provided to state and local governments, increasing taxes is not only unnecessary, it's ludicrous.
Working with record state revenue numbers, the state has plenty of resources to pay for its priorities for the next two years. There is simply no justifiable reason to increase taxes.
The perfect storm for a full-blown state income tax in future years
This leads me to the second reason I voted 'no' on this proposal: it's size. The $58 billion operating budget would grow state spending by $6.6 billion, an increase of 12.8% over the current budget cycle. In fact, state spending has increased by 72% since Governor Inslee entered office in 2013. The good economic times won't last forever. This level of spending will soon outpace the ability of taxpayers to pay for it.
How will we support this enormous spending plan in later budget cycles?
My prediction is middle and low-income individuals and families will end up cleaning up the problems created by this massive budget. Its unsustainable size, combined with this year's approval of a capital gains income tax, will be the “perfect storm” needed to deploy a state income tax to all working Washingtonians in future years.
Watch my legislative update video on the operating, capital, and transportation budgets by clicking here.
Known as the construction or brick and mortar budget, the capital budget allocates funding for land acquisitions, parks, broadband, schools, and other long-term investments. The proposed bipartisan House 2021-23 capital budget invests $5.7 billion, $3.5 billion of which is from the sale of general obligation bonds. Highlights include funding for mental health expansion efforts, K-12 school construction and repair, low-income housing, and state park improvements.
The spending proposal also contains a wide range of projects for the 13th District, including several that I sponsored or co-sponsored:
- Central Washington University Health Education: $55 million
- Ephrata Public Library: $91,000
- Ephrata Rec Center upgrade: $621,000
- Kittitas Valley Healthcare Lab Services: $397,000
- Moses Lake Business Incubator: $1.3 million
- Royal City Water Efficiency Improvements: $193,000
- FISH Community Food Bank: $1.5 million
- Port of Mattawa Wastewater Infrastructure: $618,000
- Upper Kittitas County Medic One, Station 99 expansion, Cle Elum – $784,000
For a complete list of 13th District projects in the proposed House capital budget plan, click here.
The proposed 2021-23 House transportation budget totals more than $10.9 billion. The bill passed on an 87-11 vote. Unlike the operating budget, I voted in favor of this bare-bones spending plan that focuses primarily on preservation and maintenance efforts for roadways across the state. Federal money will help backfill transportation services heavily affected by COVID-19 such as public transit, ferry operating needs, and fish passage barrier removals. Although it's not perfect, this transportation budget proposal does reflect bipartisan collaboration.
Prohibiting so-called 'vaccine passports' in Washington state
I recently co-signed onto a bill that would prohibit so-called “vaccine passports” from being used to restrict Washington residents from public places. The bill comes on the heels of announcements across the nation that proof of inoculation may be required to return to work, school, travel, or attend public events.
House Bill 1570 contains clear language protecting foundational rights of citizens who choose not to get vaccinated. Because we introduced the bill late in the current session, it will not likely get a hearing or vote. However, the plan is to reintroduce the measure during the next legislative session.
Staying involved in the legislative process
I also encourage you to stay involved in the legislative process by following House Republicans on Twitter and Facebook, or visiting The Ledger. Finally, please bookmark my legislative website, where you can find my latest press releases, video updates, interviews, and more.
It's an honor to serve you!