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Dear Friends and Neighbors,

Although the 2023 session officially concluded more than a week ago, on Sunday, April 23, shortly after drafting this end-of-session update, the governor announced a special, 30-day session for May 16. The special session has been called so lawmakers can work out a statewide approach to illegal drug possession.

I’m extremely pleased we are working to address the “Blake fix.” You can read my assessment on the failure of the Legislature to approve that bill on the last day of the regular 2023 session at the bottom of this newsletter.

2023 session highlights

Before sharing some reflections on the recent session, I’d like to thank everyone who took the time to contact me over the past few months. Your input helps me to be more effective in Olympia. It’s truly an honor to represent our region’s values and priorities at the state capital.

It’s been a busy four months, filled with dramatic and important committee hearings and floor debate on priority issues like public safety, parental rights, and, of course, budgets. At the end of nearly every session, the state’s three main budgets—operating, transportation, and capital—take center stage as lawmakers discuss the best spending plans for the state. I’ll be sharing some highlights of those budgets in this update, but before I do — let’s talk about some good news.

Good news on tax bills

Because of people like you who contacted lawmakers, committee members, and others—two massive new tax bills did not make it through the Legislature this year. Senate Bill 5770, which sought to remove the voter-approved 1% cap on property tax increases; and House Bill 1628, which sought to increase the REET tax on real estate sales, both fell apart before the conclusion of the session. That’s really good news for Washingtonians, especially those already struggling to pay their property taxes.

The finalized 2023-25 capital budget

Garnering more than $170 million for our three-county legislative district, historic capital investments are included in the final 2023-25 capital budget. If you did not know already, the capital budget funds a broad range of construction, infrastructure, and repair projects in communities across the state. This budget brings our hard-earned tax dollars home to work for us, producing the next generation of infrastructure, economic growth opportunities, and community development projects.

By working collaboratively with Sen. Judy Warnick and Rep. Tom Dent, we were able to obtain significant wins for the 13th District. This year’s budget funds numerous community projects, from Ellensburg to Yakima, for things like mental health facilities, food banks, and recreation opportunities. Here are a few highlights:

  • $1.03 million for the Ellensburg Rodeo grandstands.
  • $573,000 for FISH Food Bank expansion in Ellensburg.
  • $258,000 for Larson Playfield irrigation conversion in Moses Lake.
  • $85,000 for the Menastash Grange revitalization and expansion in Ellensburg.
  • $1.16 million for Yakima’s MLK Jr. Park & Swimming Pool.
  • $77,000 for the Rosalyn Old City Hall Community Center.
  • $518,000 for the Ellensburg Pond to Pines infrastructure.

For a complete list of local projects included in the final capital budget spending plan, click here, select the 13th Legislative District in the drop-down window, and then hit the “view report” button.

Operating and transportation budgets

Along with the capital budget, the operating and transportation budgets were finalized during the last couple of days of session. Each budget includes the state’s spending plans for the next two years, 2023-25. The operating budget, which funds the day-to-day operations for things like K-12 schools, social services, parks, and wildfire response, passed the House on a party-line vote of 58-40.

With the majority party in charge, I recognize voting “no” on this budget is more symbolic than impactful — but I simply could not say yes to this year’s proposal. There are several reasons why, but for the sake of time, here are my top concerns:

  • With all indications pointing towards a downturn in our economy — and plenty of tax revenue coming in — this budget offers no meaningful tax relief for individuals and families. Even worse, it increases spending (significantly) with a $5.6 billion push for a record $69.8 billion total, expanding state government even more by funding nearly 1,800 new or growing programs.
  • And finally, it leaves very little — only $2.1 billion — in the rainy-day fund by the end of the four-year outlook. To put this in perspective, the state treasurer recommends a rainy-day savings of nearly $7 billion, or 10% of the annual tax revenue. Leaving only $2.1 billion in the rainy-day fund with an unfavorable forecast for future tax revenue is not smart government. We can (and should) do better.

Thankfully, the transportation budget—which took a more bipartisan approach — does better. It spends a total of about $13.5 billion, including $4.6 billion for highway improvements throughout the state — including several that impact our region. Here are some (approved) projects in the 13th District:

  • I-90, Snoqualmie Pass, corridor improvements.
  • I-90, Snoqualmie Pass, widen to Easton.
  • I-90/Canyon Road Interchange, ramp and terminal improvements.
  • I-90, Snoqualmie Pass East, Hyak to Keechelus Dam, corridor improvement.
  • City of Cle Elum, park and ride and mobility improvements.
  • US 12/Wildcat Bridge replacement.
  • Port of Moses Lake.
  • Helena Ave. improvements.
  • SR 243 pavement preservation and shoulder rebuild.

For a complete list of transportation projects included in the final budget plan, click on this link and select the 13th Legislative District in the drop-down window, and then hit the “view report” button.

The Blake “fix” fails to pass

Since the 2021 state Supreme Court’s State v Blake ruling, which effectively decriminalized the possession of hard drugs like heroin, methamphetamines, and others, a “fix” has been in the works. For more than two years, House Republicans have pushed for bipartisan, meaningful policy that breaks the cycle of addiction for individuals and families, and keeps our communities safe. Unfortunately, Senate Bill 5536, offered by the majority party as their “fix” to Blake, did not do that.

SB 5536, as amended, failed to pass the House with a vote of 43-55. After months of deliberation, the majority party could not pass their own bill — with several of their own members voting “no.” Even worse, instead of voting on this bill earlier in the session, they brought to the House floor for a vote the last day lawmakers were in Olympia — leaving no time to address problems with the policy.

Here’s why SB 5536 is not a good bill:

  • The proposal sought to legalize drug paraphernalia and equipment, allowing for a “gross misdemeanor” with no real teeth if the case was deferred.
  • The lack of a credible diversion program and robust mental health support would lead to a revolving door, with plenty of room for people to game the system and not get the real help they need.
  • The bill gave local governments even less control over this public safety problem than they have now.

Two things should be present for a credible bill to pass: adequate criminal penalties and robust, sensible rehabilitation services. This bill has neither. Now that we’ve adjourned, the only way a bill can be approved is for lawmakers to hammer out a proposal and pass it during the special session called by the governor for May 16. With illegal drugs continuing to ravage our communities, hurting individuals and families, let’s hope an effective solution gets put in place.

Two of my bills signed into law

Two bills I sponsored this session made it to the governor’s desk for signature: House Bills 1624 and 1213. Here’s a quick look at each one:

  • HB 1624 modifies some restrictions on educational service district board member elections, which previously required them to be done by mail only. Passing unanimously, the bill was signed into law on April 13 and goes into effect on July 23.
  • HB 1213 is a minor bill that helps local sewer system maintainers having significant issues with non-flushable wipes labeled as “flushable.” This bill changes the labeling requirements that apply to packages, clarifying that non-flushable, nonwoven products must be properly labeled. Passed unanimously, the bill was signed by the governor on April 13 and goes into effect on July 25.

Thank you!

Although the session is over, I work for you year-round. Contact me if you have questions about state-government-related policies or issues.  

It is an honor to represent you!

Sincerely,


Alex Ybarra

State Representative Alex Ybarra, 13th Legislative District
RepresentativeAlexYbarra.com
470 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
alex.ybarra@leg.wa.gov
(360) 786-7808 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000