Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The dust is beginning to settle on the 2021 session. The final gavel on Sunday, April 25, concluded one of the most challenging sessions in state history. Before I share highlights on the bills, budgets, and policies decided during the past few months, I'd like to thank all the 13th District constituents that took part in the process. Whether you sent an email, called, attended a virtual town hall, or even testified remotely on a bill, each of you had an impact.
As many of you know, lawmakers took part in committee hearings, floor debates, and constituent meetings 100% remotely during session. And let me tell you, it was not easy. But like you, lawmakers learned, adapted, and made it work. Although emerging communication technologies boosted citizen involvement—like remote testimony—nothing beats in-person interaction when discussing ideas. I'm already looking forward to the next legislative session when I hope lawmakers are able to gather in person again.
The Working Families Tax Credit
During this session, the Legislature took steps to relieve some of the financial burdens on those that earn the least. For the first time in state history, the Working Families Tax Credit will be fully funded. Lawmakers approved this tax exemption in 2008, but for several years it remained unfunded. Similar to the federal earned income credit, the program gives rebates back to those who qualify.
House Republicans originally allocated monies for the working families' tax credit in their version of the operating budget early in the 2021 legislative session. House Bill 1297 became the bipartisan version of that plan, which passed with a near-unanimous vote. Starting in 2023, depending on income, qualifying individuals will receive up to $1,200—with the maximum remittance going to parents with three or more children. I'm excited to see this program finally get put to use.
Other tax relief bills include:
- B&O tax exemption for amounts received as pandemic financial assistance, HB 1095;
- Property tax deferral during the COVID-19 pandemic, HB 1332; and
- Expanding eligibility for property tax exemptions for service-connected disabled veterans and seniors, HB 1438.
2021-23 Operating Budget
On the final day of the 105-day session, the House and Senate approved a $59 billion two-year state operating budget. The plan includes approximately $7 billion in new spending, a 13.6% increase over the previous biennium.
Since 2011, we've doubled the state's two-year operating budget. If we continue down this path, spending will someday outpace the taxpayer's ability to pay for it. Why is that important? Because when a budget is unsustainable, like this one, it forces lawmakers in future years to do one of two things: implement drastic cutbacks and/or increase taxes. Neither of those options will be easy.
Unpopular and unnecessary tax increases
As I've shared in previous updates, Washington state realized more revenue growth during the pandemic than any other state in the nation. At a time when we are collecting record tax revenue and sitting on billions in federal stimulus funds, the Legislature choose to increase your taxes. I voted “no” to each of the proposals listed below. These tax increases are unnecessary, unpopular, and unneeded.
House Bill 1277 imposes a new $100 surcharge on recorded documents. At a critical time in our state's economic recovery, this measure will add an approximate $500 million in new taxes and fees imposed on Washington businesses.
Senate Bill 5096 removes one of the single-most important advantages our state once enjoyed when it comes to attracting business investors and entrepreneurs: until now, we did not impose an income tax on our citizens. With a 7% tax payment to the state for specific capital gains over $250,000, the media has labeled Senate Bill 5096 a tax on the wealthy. However, I believe, along with several of my colleagues, that the capital gains income tax is the first step to deploying a state income tax to all Washingtonians in future years.
I voted “no” on House Bill 1091, the Low-Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) because it's regressive. Increasing the cost of gas, diesel, and other goods will hit low- to middle-income individuals and families the hardest. No matter what proponents suggest, lower-income earners will not stop driving their cars. Instead, they'll be forced to give up other “luxuries” like food, education, child care, and other items.
Another bill I opposed was Senate Bill 5126, the cap-and-invest program, which seeks to limit greenhouse gas emissions. The program will have a negligible impact on the environment. It's costly, ineffective, and particularly punitive to drivers in rural areas forced to go long distances to get to work and other activities. Combined with LCFS, Washington drivers will be spending close to $9 more each time they fill up their gas tanks, with some estimates going even higher. That's not smart public policy.
For more information, watch my legislative update video below on bills, budgets, and policies during the 2021 legislative session.
Emergency powers reform
Emergency powers reform concerns both sides of the aisle. For over 14 months, we've been living under the governor's declared state of emergency. During that time, restrictions placed on counties across our state, and other decisions of this magnitude, have been made by the executive branch alone.
The public deserves a voice in the process. That's the role of the Legislature. While I agree the governor needs to be able to respond quickly to natural disasters, pandemics, and other emergencies, there need to be some limits. Executive authority, without public input, should not extend for months on end.
Some states have worked to amend their emergency powers laws, Washington has not. The graphic below clearly shows our state's status at the bottom of the list when it comes to this much-needed reform.
Lawmakers missed a big opportunity this year to restore the proper balance of power. House Bill 1557 would have given the legislative branch more oversight in long-lasting states of emergency. I'm glad the sponsors of this measure plan to reintroduce it again in the 2022 session.
The Blake decision | Senate Bill 5476
During the last days of the legislative session, lawmakers approved Senate Bill 5476. The measure partially addresses the state Supreme Court's Blake ruling, which struck down Washington's felony drug possession law. Senate Bill 5476 will re-criminalize drug possession by making it a misdemeanor, but only for the next two years. The criminal penalty provisions will expire on July 1, 2023, once again leaving Washington without a law against drug possession.
In both the House and Senate, lawmakers struggled over the right approach to both criminal drug possession and treatment for addicts. Much of the debate was focused on getting those suffering from drug addiction the help they need. I agree we need expanded treatment options. But we should balance treatment with reasonable criminal penalties. I voted “yes” on this bill because it was better than the alternative, which would have allowed drug possession to remain legal. I hope that by the next legislative session lawmakers are able to bring both sides of this important debate together.
Stay in touch
Although the 2021 session has ended, I serve you year-round. Throughout the interim, I'll be sending updates and information on my work for the 13th District. Please continue reaching out to me with your comments, questions, and concerns. My email address is Alex.Ybarra@leg.wa.gov, and my office number is (360) 786-7808.
It's an honor to serve you!