We are down to the last week of the legislative session. The big-ticket items are still not finalized. The three state budgets – operating, transportation and capital – police reform bills, capital gains income tax, low carbon fuel standard, the Blake decision and other bills are still being negotiated. It will a very interesting final week. I will provide you an end-of-session review. However, this update gives you the latest on emergency powers reform, concerns on what an operating budget may look like, and some background on a possible massive transportation package that may come before us.
Majority votes down opportunity to address emergency powers
On Friday, House Republicans brought a motion to the floor to place House Concurrent Resolution 4402 on the Second Reading Calendar. It was an effort to waive previously established cutoff dates and allowed us to bring House Bill 1557 to the floor for a full vote.
This bill has bipartisan co-sponsors and was designed to ensure adequate legislative involvement in long-lasting states of emergency. Under the bill, states of emergency would expire after 60 days unless renewed by the Legislature. It would also allow the Legislature to terminate, on its own authority, an emergency declaration. Many states are already doing this or have amended their emergency powers laws during the pandemic. Unfortunately, the vote failed on party lines 41-56. This is disappointing. State lawmakers and the constituents they represent need to have a voice and be part of the decision-making process.
Editorial boards across the state agree with us on this issue.
- The Columbian: Legislature should act to balance government
- Tri-City Herald: Gov. Inslee's emergency powers over COVID have gone unchecked long enough
- The News Tribune: Curbing Inslee's emergency power all but dead. We should learn from Texas, New York
- Tri-City Herald: WA Gov. Jay Inslee has too much power over COVID. Lawmakers must fix the law
- The Seattle Times: A legislative check on the governor
- The News Tribune: It's time for Washington Legislature to check Gov. Inslee's pandemic superpowers
Finally, the Maine Policy Institute ranks Washington as one of the worst states in the country when it comes to emergency executive powers. Click here for more information.
We should be seeing a final operating budget in the next couple days. I did not support the House version of the operating budget passed on April 3. In fact, it passed on a party-line vote of 57-41.
The budget did include some good things that reflected the Republican budget proposal we put forward in February, including:
- funding the Working Families Tax Credit;
- addressing wildfire prevention and forest health; and
- advocating for local health funding and funding with existing revenue.
However, I have some major concerns with the House Democratic proposal.
First, it is unsustainable. It continues the rapid pace of state spending – which has increased 72% since Gov. Inslee was elected in 2013. It would grow spending by $6.6 billion, an increase of 12.8% over the current budget cycle. (See chart below).
It unnecessarily implements a capital gains income tax. There is no reason to raise taxes. Our revenues have been resilient through the pandemic. The last revenue forecast showed we are above pre-pandemic levels. Plus, we are receiving billions of stimulus dollars from the federal government. We do not need to raise taxes. We can pass a budget that addresses our priorities without cutting any vital services. It should be noted the capital gains income tax proposal was voted out of the Finance Committee on Friday, so we should be debating this proposal on the House floor very soon.
The majority used a budget maneuver to access rainy-day funds. Normally, it takes a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to tap the rainy-day fund. However, because unemployment growth is down due to the pandemic, it only takes a simple majority this session. With that being the case, House Democrats take $1.8 billion out of the state's voter-approved rainy-day fund, or the Budget Stabilization Account, and put it into another fund to access later. This seems to violate the spirit, and possibly the law, of the voter-approved, constitutionally-protected, rainy-day fund.
For these reasons, I opposed the House proposal. As mentioned, a final operating budget should be released in the next couple days. I do not know if it will address my concerns. Republicans have been left out of the budget negotiations between the House and Senate.
Transportation package could mean large increase in fuel prices
As we work through the final week of session, it is unclear if or when we may vote on a transportation package. The details seem to be changing frequently.
The transportation package, Forward Washington, being pushed by Senate Democrats, would have initially raised 33 taxes and fees to pay for their proposal – including a 9.8 cent fuel tax increase, a statewide special transportation benefit assessment on new construction, food delivery fees, and a “per mile funding system” that gets started for electric and hybrid vehicles in 2026. This may be the foot in the door to a Road Usage Charge or pay-per-mile plan.
The transportation package is linked with the two climate-change bills wanted by Gov. Jay Inslee. The low carbon fuel standard, House Bill 1091, and the cap and trade or “cap and tax” program, Senate Bill 5126.
Voters have rejected carbon-pricing schemes in the past.
- I-732 failed 59%-41% in 2016, rejected by 38 counties, passing only in King County.
- I-1631 failed 57%-43% in 2018, passing only in King and Jefferson counties.
Despite the results at the ballot box, the governor and majority party are pushing hard to get this through the Legislature this session. Negotiations are ongoing and we are waiting to what a final proposal may look like. Click here for an overview of all the moving pieces.
Finally, if all three proposals were to pass, fuel prices could increase 30-50 cents a gallon in 2023.
I look forward to providing an end of session wrap up after we adjourn on Sunday, April 25. In the meantime, please let me know if you have any questions, concerns or comments.
It is an honor and privilege to represent the 19th District!
Your Humble Servant,