Dear Friends and Neighbors,
There are only two weeks left in this legislative session, but we still have many bills to debate and vote on before we're scheduled to wrap up on March 10. One of the biggest issues we need to tackle is the state's three budgets. Policy cutoff is this Thursday, and we are scheduled to vote on the budgets on Saturday.
Mask Mandate Ending in March
Before I get into the budget details, I want to first highlight some positive news. The governor will be lifting the indoor mask mandate for businesses and all K-12 schools, beginning Monday, March 21. This is a positive step in the right direction.
Masks will still be required in health care environments like hospitals and dental offices, as well as in long-term care settings and prisons. Federal law also requires masks in certain places like public transportation and school buses.
While we would prefer to have the mask mandate lifted immediately, we are happy there is an end in sight. We continue to push for emergency powers reform because Washington was never intended to be run by one person. The Legislature acts as the voice of the people and the people need to be heard during an ongoing state of emergency. We hope the governor will continue to take positive steps forward as we look toward the end of this lengthy pandemic.
Budget Plans Released
House and Senate Democrats have unveiled their budget proposals: operating, transportation, and capital. While the capital budget is a bipartisan effort, Republicans were not included in any discussions for the other two budgets. As you might expect, the overarching theme in these two budgets is more spending and no meaningful tax relief. Republicans have been pleading for tax relief, especially as so many families continue to struggle with the effects of the pandemic shutdown and the current rising cost of goods.
Operating Budget – this is a historic time in the state of Washington, as state revenues have increased exponentially over the last year. We've never seen an operating budget of this magnitude. Despite the pandemic, and the many negative effects from the governor's shutdown order, tax collections have skyrocketed in the state, growing by 13.3% in 2021 and 8.7% in 2022. Additionally, since the 2021-23 budget was enacted last March, revenue has increased by $9.25 billion over the four-year outlook.
There has never been a better time to offer the people of Washington legitimate tax relief. Yet the majority party budget writers in both chambers are both calling for increased spending and no meaningful tax breaks for Washingtonians.
Families and individuals are facing the highest inflation rate in more than 40 years, which is costing the average household an extra $250 a month. However, while families are struggling with the increased costs, the state has a $15 billion budget surplus.
Instead of tax relief, the House Democrats' plan calls for adding $6.2 billion in new spending to the two-year budget passed by lawmakers last April. That's a total spending amount of approximately $65 billion, with only $2.2 billion left in reserve. The Senate plan would add about $5.8 billion in new spending for a total of $63.4 billion, with $3.3 billion in reserves.
However, with so much additional money available, why not give something back to the taxpayers? To that end, House Republicans have introduced the SAFE Washington budget plan, which would do a number of things to improve life for Washingtonians, including provide meaningful tax relief to families, without compromising state services.
It's time to truly help working families. We have record revenue, plus a historic surplus. We should be giving Washingtonians real tax relief. House Republicans will continue providing real solutions to our biggest issues, including offering long-term tax relief to help struggling families and individuals. You can learn more about the SAFE Washington budget plan here.
Transportation Budget and Spending and Tax Package – Democrats released their supplemental transportation budget this week, after both chambers introduced their massive $16 billion transportation package last week, which they're calling the Move Ahead Washington plan.
The 2021-23 transportation budget is$11.7 billion, which is a reduction of $137 million from the budget passed last year.
The good news is the budget does include some Republican ideas, including $5 million going toward keeping safety rest areas open, like the direction in HB 1655. Another $50,000 would go toward posting human trafficking assistance phone number signs at those areas, as called for in HB 2077.
Unfortunately, there is also some bad news:
- It spends $127 million in Climate Commitment Act funding that may not appear at the end of the biennium. This funding is going to special interests instead of much-needed repairs on the state system.
- It increases $68.8 million for public transportation funding, with a good portion of the funding coming from the Climate Commitment Act.
- It provides $4 million and authorization to seek federal funding for the governor's ultra-high-speed rail concept from Portland, Oregon, to Vancouver, B.C.
- It authorizes the Department of Commerce to set vehicle miles traveled reduction targets for all jurisdictions, which originally did not apply in rural counties.
Republicans have different priorities including maintenance and preservation, emphasis on local projects, and completing Connecting Washington projects. The Move Ahead Washington plan is expensive, poorly thought out, and one-sided. House Republicans should have a place at the table to introduce and discuss their ideas for improving transportation in Washington.
In fact, earlier this session, we introduced the REAL Act: Reprioritizing Existing Appropriations for Longevity. This would resolve many of the most pressing transportation issues in the state without burdening taxpayers more. The REAL Act would:
- Shift specified transportation programs to be paid for by the general fund starting in 2025.
- Direct state sales tax paid on motor vehicles to the preservation and maintenance of the existing transportation system.
- Transfer sales tax paid on transportation projects to the transportation budget.
In contrast, the Democrats' package calls for massive spending and it would rely on additional taxes, including $2 billion in new revenue from a 6-cent tax on fuel exported from Washington state. This export fuel tax is a bad idea with bad consequences. Oregon, Alaska, and Idaho have all threatened to retaliate if Washington decides to move forward with this policy, which would end up hurting consumers, especially those who live close to these bordering states, including the 17th District. Here's a comparison of the two plans.
The Republican's REAL Act plan would provide the necessary funds to fix the state's ongoing transportation issues, without raising taxes and hurting Washingtonians. That's what we need now more than ever in Washington.
Capital Budget – the House also released is supplemental capital budget this week. This budget is for projects such as schools and other public buildings, behavioral and mental health facilities, parks, low-income housing, water infrastructure, and habitat.
It proposes to spend $1.5 billion, $77.4 million of which is from the sale of general obligation bonds. The remaining $1.41 billion is comprised of a combination of federal funds, General Fund-State transfers, and other dedicated funding sources. It leaves $27.6 million in bond capacity.
For a list of our local projects, click on this link and select the 17th Legislative District in the drop down window and then hit the “view report” button.
Sign up for Text Alerts
There's a new way to stay informed about everything going on in the Legislature and you can receive it directly to your cell phone. House Republicans have introduced a new text alert system. Click here to sign up.
Even though session is winding down, it's not too late to contact me with your input, questions, and concerns. So, please continue reaching out to me. I appreciate your feedback and ideas. I'm honored to represent you in the 17th District and I'm always here to listen. You can set up a personal meeting with me via Zoom, by clicking here.
It's my honor to serve you!