My first legislative session was historic, but not for reasons I had hoped. It was the first “virtual” session in history and an operating budget was passed that spends almost $60 billion – the highest operating budget in state history. The operating budget passed in 2011 was around $30 billion. We have almost doubled our state spending in 10 years.
Conducting the entire session virtually was challenging, but we made it work. However, it certainly felt like something was missing. I was looking forward to the in-person meetings with constituents, committee hearings with the “public” in the same room as the full committee, and being able to sit down with colleagues across the aisle to discuss amendments, legislation or just getting a chance to know them better. I am hopeful we will all be in Olympia next year, so we can truly work together.
This end-of-session review covers a lot of ground. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.
Virtual town hall Tuesday, May, 25
On Tuesday, May 25 from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Sen. Jeff Wilson, Rep. Jim Walsh and I would like to invite you to a Virtual Town Hall meeting to give you a review of the 2021 legislative session.
This town hall event is a fantastic way to let your voice be heard. There has been great turnout and participation with previous events.
The remote town hall event will be conducted using the Zoom platform. If you would like to participate you must pre-register in advance. To do so go to RepresentativeJoelMcEntire.com. The website will have a drop-down that links to the registration. The conference can only accommodate the first 500 attendees, so register early. We look forward to visiting with you.
There were some good things in the budget that reflected the Republican budget proposal we put forward in February, including:
- funding the Working Families Tax Credit;
- replenishing the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund;
- addressing wildfire prevention and forest health; and
- advocating for local health funding.
However, there are many concerns with this $58.9 billion operating budget.
It is unsustainable. It is the largest budget in state history and continues the rapid pace of state spending – which has increased 74% since Gov. Inslee was elected in 2013. This budget would grow spending by $7 billion, an increase of 13.6% over the current budget cycle.
There needs to be some transparency. The final operating budget was made public on the last Saturday of session, and passed the next day before we adjourned. Saturday was the first time Republicans and the public were able to see the 1,102-page budget document. We were left out of the budget process and it was passed within 24 hours.
The majority uses a budget maneuver violating the spirit of the rainy-day fund. The Democrats take $1.8 billion out of the state’s voter-approved rainy-day fund, or the Budget Stabilization Account. Usually, it takes a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to tap the rainy-day fund. However, because of low employment growth during the pandemic, only a simple majority vote was needed to take money out of the account. This goes against the spirit, and maybe law, of the voter-approved, constitutionally-protected, rainy-day fund.
I had the opportunity to serve in leadership on the Capital Budget Committee that is responsible for putting together the largest capital budget in state history, at a time when our economic recovery and investing in our communities could not be more important. These are taxpayer dollars coming back to the district to help fund community or local government projects where funding may be difficult to come by.
We were able to secure funding of more than $168.6 million for the 19th District including:
- $2.99 million for the Coastal Community Action Program;
- $1.6 million for the Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation;
- $2.1 million for the Willapa Center in Raymond (early learning facility and Housing Trust Fund investment);
- $900,000 public building conversion pilot;
- $88,000 for American Legion Veterans Housing and Resource Center;
- $500,000 for Coastal Community Action Program Service Center in Aberdeen;
- $900,000 for Lake Sacajawea renovation project in Longview;
- $765,000 for Longview Hospice Care Center Renovation;
- $309,000 Ocean Beach Medical Group;
- $634,000 for Ports of Ilwaco/Chinook Nav Infrastructure;
- $361,000 for South Bend school multi-use field upgrades;
- $721,000 for Ilwaco’s drinking water source protection;
- $47.7 million for Grays Harbor College student services and instructional building;
- $3.2 million for Lower Columbia center for vocational and transitional studies;
- $70 million for the Chehalis Basin strategy;
- $2 million for the Seaport Landing/former Weyerhaeuser Aberdeen Sawmill;
- $511,000 for the Forks Creek Hatchery;
- $15 million for the Naselle Hatchery renovation;
- $20,000 for the Cathlamet Pioneer Cemetery restoration;
- $995,000 for the Longview Fire Station purchase;
- $50,000 for Raymond School District modernization;
- $496,000 for Boisfort School District modernization;
- $352,000 for fish barrier removal – Stillwater Creek;
- $224,000 for fish barrier removal – Delameter Creek;
- $1.3 million for East Fork Grays Floodplain reconnection;
- $2 million for West Fork Grays River Conservation Project;
- $2 million for Grays River Watershed West Fork Conservation Area;
- $438,000 for Chehalis River Davis Creek Expansion; and
- $1.16 million for Willapa Hills Trail Pacific County bridges.
With a total spending plan of $6.3 billion, $3.9 billion of which is from the sale of general obligation bonds, the capital budget leaves $82 million in bond capacity for the 2022 supplemental capital budget.
The $11.8 billion biennial transportation budget protects current projects and provides some funding for the maintenance and preservation needs of our transportation systems. It includes an influx of more than $1 billion in federal funds, most of which will go toward fish passage barrier removal.
The budget includes an additional $280,000 for the Wahkiakum ferry run and study language related to this ferry route. The study, to be conducted by the Washington State Department of Transportation, will look at the agreement with Wahkiakum County on future state reimbursement for the ferry operation and maintenance, as well as the benefit of the route to both Washington and Oregon. Given the importance of this ferry to our region, I appreciate the transportation leaders including this in the budget so we can take a closer look and ensure it is getting the necessary funding.
Capital gains income tax
Following a six-hour House floor debate that spanned two days, Democrats passed a state income tax on capital gains. Senate Bill 5096 passed the last week of session on a 52-46 vote in the House and by a 25-24 vote in the Senate. This tax is:
- unnecessary as state revenue will grow by $4.3 billion in 2021-23.
- unreliable as the capital gains tax is very volatile, especially during a pandemic or economic downturn.
- unpopular as voters have turned down an income tax or related ballot measure 10 times.
- unconstitutional and will be challenged in the courts.
Emergency powers reform
The Legislature adjourned without addressing emergency powers reform this session. That was very disappointing.
In my last update I explained how House Republicans made a motion that would have allowed us to bring important bipartisan emergency powers reform legislation to the floor for a vote. Unfortunately, our motion was rejected. The majority party stated if we circumvented the rules or cutoff dates for one bill, it would create an expectation that could be done for other legislation. However, we have been pushing for emergency power reforms since last May and we had bills ready to go on the first day of session. If they wanted to address this issue, there was plenty of time to do so.
Now that we have adjourned and are under one-person rule again, some counties have become increasingly frustrated with Gov. Inslee’s actions. See articles below. More reasons that we should have addressed this issue during the session.
- Democrats threaten Inslee with special session over state’s reopening plan (KCPQ TV)
- ‘The goalpost has moved too many times’: Petition calls on Gov. Inslee to reopen Washington by June 15 (KREM2-TV)
Low-carbon fuel standard (LCFS) mandate
On the final day of session, the majority passed their LCFS mandate, House Bill 1091. The legislation authorizes the Department of Ecology to create a clean fuels program by rule to reduce the carbon intensity of transportation fuels. This mandate will increase the cost of gas and diesel without generating any new revenue for transportation projects, and do very little to improve air quality.
Another center piece to the governor’s climate change agenda, Senate Bill 5126, establishes a cap-and-invest program, some refer to it as cap-and-tax, for greenhouse gas emissions to be implemented by the Department of Ecology.
The measure passed in the House by a 54-43 vote. Every House Republican and a few Democrats voted against it. This is a regressive plan that will increase the costs of gas, food, goods, and heating on low- and middle-income families. These people will pay the most, as well as those who commute long distances for work, groceries, school and medical care.
We hear a lot about the regressive nature of our tax system. However, these policies being pushed are regressive and will hurt those who are struggling financially in our current economic situation.
The costs associated with cap-and-tax, a low-carbon fuel standard, and a potential state gas tax increase could increase fuel prices by as much as 55 cents per gallon. That will hit many individuals, families, and small businesses during these uncertain financial times.
Stay in touch
While the legislative session is over, please remember I am your state representative year-round. I am available to answer your questions, listen to your ideas and help you navigate problems with state government. Your feedback and input are important to me.
You can follow state government news throughout the interim with the following websites/news services.
- The Washington State Ledger: This is a legislative news aggregator administered by state House Republicans. It is a great source for information related to state government, public policy and the legislative process. It is updated frequently.
- Capitol Buzz: This daily electronic clip service offers headlines and stories from media outlets throughout the state, including newspaper, radio, and television.
- The Current: This an online legislative publication from the Washington House Republicans that is sent out every week during the legislative session and every month during the interim.
It is an honor and privilege to represent the 19th District!
Your Humble Servant,