The 2021 legislative session has ended. While there were many bipartisan successes, there were also some disappointing policies that advanced. Below is a summary of the major issues from this week. I will provide you a more detailed account of the last 105 days at a later date.
Despite controlling both chambers, Democrats rolled out their operating budget yesterday and it was voted on today. Every House Republican opposed it in a 57-40 vote. State lawmakers, the public, and the media had one day to read and digest the information. This is a failure of transparency by the majority party.
The operating budget does some good things, which is what you would expect when the state spends nearly $59 billion. Parts of it mirror the priorities found in the House Republican operating budget framework, unveiled on February 16, including the Working Families Tax Credit, replenishing the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund, and long-term forest health. Our opposition is rooted in the level of state spending, the reliance on a state income tax on capital gains, and moving money out of the rainy-day fund into a new account.
In a statement today, our budget lead Rep. Drew Stokesbary said it best: “This budget will make our state less competitive, make our revenue less predictable, and ultimately hurt working families across the state.”
The transportation budget passed yesterday on a bipartisan 90-6 vote. This $11.8 billion budget funds the basic transportation needs of our state and is funded by motor vehicle tax revenues, license and registration fees, fares, and tolls.
Our transportation lead, Rep. Andrew Barkis, was an important part of budget negotiations. His work and Republican ideas are reflected in the final plan. You can read Andrew’s statement from yesterday here.
Here are some of the highlights:
- $849 million for preservation and $520 million for maintenance.
- $550 million for Washington State Patrol, including an additional trooper class.
- $541 million for operating costs and $505 million for capital costs for Washington State Ferries.
- $224 million for Transportation Improvement Board.
- $101 million for County Road Administration Board.
The capital budget also passed yesterday but on a unanimous vote. This state construction budget spends $6.3 billion, with $3.94 billion from the sale of general obligation bonds. Budget writers left $89 million in bond capacity for next year’s supplemental capital budget.
Our new ranking member on the House Capital Budget Committee, Rep. Mike Steele, did a great job of negotiating and advocating for the needs of our state. In his statement yesterday, Mike emphasized how this budget is important for growth in rural communities and urban centers alike.
In addition to local projects, which can be found here, other highlights include:
- $733 million for the state’s four-year institutions.
- $730.6 million for 2021-23 School Construction Assistance Program.
- $512 million for the community and technical college system.
- $326 million for State Broadband Office for broadband infrastructure projects, including $50 million in bonds to leverage other federal funding.
- $200.7 million to begin construction of the behavioral health teaching hospital run by the University of Washington.
- $129 million from the Public Works Assistance Account to issue grants and loans to local governments for infrastructure projects.
- $95 million in behavioral health capacity grants for community mental health services.
Income tax on capital gains | Senate Bill 5096
Following a six-hour House floor debate that spanned two days, Democrats passed a state income tax on capital gains on a 52-46 vote Wednesday. All House Republicans voted against Senate Bill 5096 and we convinced five House Democrats to join us. But it wasn’t enough. You can watch our debate highlights in this video.
Unfortunately, a conference committee agreed to keep the necessity clause in this bill. This means a referendum probably cannot be filed to challenge the legislation. The bill is headed to the governor’s desk where it is expected to be signed.
House Republicans believe this new tax is unnecessary, unpopular, unconstitutional, and a major step toward a state income tax. It is shocking the majority party would push for this policy, but especially when our state coffers are overflowing with tax collections and federal dollars.
Cap-and-tax scheme | Senate Bill 5126
Another controversial bill, and a center piece to the governor’s climate change agenda, passed in the eleventh hour. Senate Bill 5126, which was rushed through the House, would establish a cap-and-invest program for greenhouse gas emissions to be implemented by the Department of Ecology. Republicans call it cap-and-tax.
The measure passed on a 54-43 vote Friday. Every House Republican voted against it. We believe this new, bureaucratic scheme is regressive. It will increase the costs of gas, food, goods, and heating on low- and middle-income families. It will be particularly punitive to people who have to use gas and commute to work.
The Senate concurred in House amendments, which means this legislation is also headed to the governor for his signature.
Low-carbon fuel standard mandate | House Bill 1091
Democrats were also able to find a compromise on the low-carbon fuel standard, House Bill 1091, on the last day. The measure will authorize the Department of Ecology to create a clean fuels program by rule to reduce the carbon intensity of transportation fuels. It will increase the cost of gas and diesel without generating any new revenue for transportation projects, and do very little to improve air quality.
The added costs associated with cap-and-tax, a low-carbon fuel standard, and a potential state gas tax increase — including increasing prices at the pump — will devastate many individuals, families, and small businesses. In fact, it could cost close to $9 more every time you fill up your tank with gas — with some estimates much higher.
The majority party talks a lot about our state’s upside-down, regressive tax system, but then pushes for policies that hurt those who are struggling economically.
I hope you have found these email updates informative. I have done my best to share what’s happening in your citizen Legislature and explain House Republican perspectives.
This will become a monthly publication beginning in late May. As I mentioned above, I will provide more details on the legislative session in a few weeks.
While we won’t be in a legislative session, the work of House Republicans continues. And that includes keeping you informed. Please follow us on social media, visit The Ledger, and sign-up for The Capitol Buzz.
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