Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Spring is in the air and beautiful Pacific Northwest days are ahead. That means the 2021 virtual legislative session is coming to a close. With only three weeks left, we are spending long days, late evenings, and weekends on the House floor debating and voting on bills. In this update, I will provide details on the state's three main budget proposals.
But first, I would like to provide an update on the work I have been doing to end the eviction moratorium.
At the beginning of session, I introduced House Bill 1228, which would have not only ended the eviction moratorium but provided much needed financial relief to both property owners and tenants impacted by the pandemic. Unfortunately, it did not make it through the legislative process.
However, I have been working closely with my colleagues in the Senate to come up with a bipartisan solution to this issue. I do want to thank the ranking Republican on the House Housing, Human Services, and Veterans Committee – Rep. Michelle Caldier – for her perseverance on this issue and ensuring our voices were heard throughout the negotiation process to find a solution.
While Senate Bill 5160 is not perfect, it does contain a provision that will put an end to the eviction moratorium. This is one of the only pieces of legislation so far this session where we have been able to slightly rein in some of the governor's authority as we remain in a state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This bill passed the House with bipartisan support, including mine. It now heads to the Senate for concurrence – or acceptance of the amendments to the bill made by the House – before it reaches the governor's desk.
There is still a lot of work that needs to be done to bring real relief to our property owners and tenants. The battle is not over. I will continue to advocate for property owners and tenants alike.
House 2021-23 transportation, capital, and operating budget proposals
Both the House and Senate have approved their versions of the state's two-year transportation, operating, and capital budgets. Now, budget writers will go line-by-line to make any final adjustments to these budget proposals. Before the final gavel on April 25, we will be given one more opportunity to weigh-in and vote on the finalized budgets before they head to the governor's desk for signature.
This bipartisan $10.9 billion biennial budget is both an operating and capital budget for our state's transportation system. It funds infrastructure projects across the state including maintenance and preservation of current transportation systems, the Washington State Ferry system, the Washington State Department of Transportation, the Washington State Patrol, and other state transportation agencies.
As the ranking Republican on the House Transportation Committee, I am proud that this budget will keep transportation projects across our district and state moving forward, and that the proposal itself does not raise taxes on anyone or anything.
This budget passed the House chamber with bipartisan support, including mine.
For more on my support for this budget, I encourage you to watch my floor speech. You can do so by clicking on the graphic below. You can also read the statement I put out to the media by clicking here.
Transportation tax packages
It is no secret we have a transportation problem in this state, and that our priorities have become misplaced. We should be working on reprioritizing our budget to work within our means by focusing on existing revenue and shifting the sales tax revenue paid on vehicles from the operating budget to the transportation budget. We also need to address the backlog of preservation and maintenance projects, and complete all projects in a timelier manner, with less regulatory burdens. It is not the time for massive transportation and environmental tax increases.
Yet, there are two Democratic-led transportation tax packages that have been introduced, one by House Democrats and the other by Senate Democrats.
The House Democrats transportation tax package is known as the “Miles Ahead” plan. While they have provided a potential list of projects, and what it will cost to fund these projects, they have not identified how they will fund their plan – including how much the state gas tax would be increased.
The Senate Democrats transportation tax package is known as the “Forward Washington” plan. They provide more details, including spending, revenue and bond bills. Their plan includes several new tax and fee increases, including a 9.8 cent state gas tax increase. The spending, revenue, and bond bills will receive a public hearing in the Senate Transportation Committee on Monday.
Despite bipartisan opposition, Senate Democrats have also passed controversial cap-and-tax legislation on a narrow 25-24 vote. I, along with my Republican colleagues, will stand united in opposition to this bill.
I will continue to work in a bipartisan way to find real solutions for our state's transportation needs, but at this time I cannot support any tax increases, especially as we begin the long road of recovery from the pandemic.
The majority party proposed and approved a massive $58 billion two-year operating budget, an increase of $6.4 billion over the previous biennium.
This budget funds the day-to-day operations of the state, and includes priorities such as investments in childcare, rental and landlord assistance, the expansion of broadband, and improvements to state-managed forestlands. Those are all good policy objectives.
Another good policy objective in this budget, and one of my main priorities, is providing some funding towards our homelessness crisis. I offered an amendment, which was accepted, to provide $15 million in grant funding to local governments to address the safety and public health risks associated with homeless encampment sites located on a public right-of-way. You can watch my floor speech on my amendment by clicking on the graphic below.
Even though this budget has some good policy objectives, I do have two major concerns: the unsustainability of the spending plan in future years, and its dependence on an income tax on capital gains. Let me explain these concerns.
It's troubling state spending continues to climb so dramatically. The House proposal increases the operating budget by $6.6 billion, a more than 12.8% over the current budget cycle. The enormity of the $58 billion plan, and it's focus on expanding ongoing operations and programs instead of one-time expenses, means it likely will create a bow wave of obligations in the future.
Despite early predictions of a budget shortfall, state government has made it through the pandemic relatively unscathed. Budget writers have more than $4.3 billion in surplus state revenue to work with this year. Not only have tax collections rebounded to pre-COVID levels, it has grown by 13.6%. It is unfathomable that the majority party would even be proposing an unconstitutional, unpopular, and unsustainable income tax on capital gains as part of this budget. I also fear this will be the “foot in the door” to expanding an income tax to middle-class and working families. House Republicans offered an amendment that would have funded this entire budget proposal without relying on this tax; however, the amendment was rejected.
Due to the massive increase in spending and the reliance of an income tax on capital gains, I could not support this budget.
The capital budget is known as the construction or “brick and mortar” budget. It allocates funds for land acquisitions, parks, broadband, construction and repair of public buildings, and other long-term investments.
The $5.7 billion House Capital Budget passed with unanimous support. Highlights include funding for mental health expansion efforts, schools, low-income housing, and state park improvements, among many others.
I am happy to announce roughly $22 million in local projects for the 2nd District are appropriated in the House Capital Budget. For a list of our local projects, click on this link.
Even though we are heading into the final stretch, I still want to hear from you. Please contact my office anytime. My contact information is at the bottom of this email.