My first session as your 20th District state representative ended on time, April 25, 105 days after it began Jan. 11. I am honored and proud to serve as your state representative in the 20th Legislative District. It was a difficult session serving virtually, which is why my first vote on Jan. 11 was to open our government to the people and to the legislators. Unfortunately, the governor and his majority party does not have my appreciation and reverence for open and transparent government. Only a week after that, I voted to take power back from the governor by ending his executive powers that have monopolized government power. To my disappointment, but not surprise, the governor and his majority party continued the governor's unilateral decision-making.
Despite the uphill battle, I am proud of some of our accomplishments that funded the Working Families Tax Credit, successfully placed a sunset to the eviction moratorium, passed a bipartisan timber bill I sponsored, approved a bipartisan capital budget I helped negotiate across parties and chambers, and defeated many pieces of bad legislation. As you know, the governor and his majority party were relentless in moving our state further to “Sawant Style” politics. The title of a recent Seattle Times article pretty much summed up the 2021 legislative session: “It's Seattle's state now in politics, and everybody else is living in it.” This email update reflects upon the past four months and legislation that will impact all of us across Washington state.
20th District virtual town hall meeting, May 20
Be sure to join me, Sen. John Braun and Rep. Ed Orcutt for a 20th District virtual town hall meeting on Thursday, May 20 from 5:30 p.m. – 7 p.m. We will discuss the recently-completed 2021 session and take your questions. Click here to register in advance. I hope to see you there!
We are celebrating small victories, such as a robust capital construction budget (House Bill 1080) that does very good things for the 20th District. We were also able to fund the Working Families Tax Credit (House Bill 1297) for the first time in its 12-year history. Other bipartisan successes included passage of:
- House Bill 1095 – B&O tax exemption for amounts received as pandemic financial assistance;
- House Bill 1168 – Wildfire prevention and forest health;
- House Bill 1279 – Modifying the Washington Main Street Program tax incentive to respond to the economic impact of COVID;
- House Bill 1332 – Property tax deferral during the COVID-19 pandemic;
- House Bill 1438 – Expanding eligibility for property tax exemptions for service-connected disabled veterans and seniors;
- House Bill 1457 – Facilitating the coordinated installation of broadband along state highways; and
- Senate Bill 5193, Senate Bill 5478 – Unemployment insurance reforms.
The budgets – operating, transportation and capital
Our legislative sessions are constitutionally set at 105 days in odd-numbered years and 60 days in even-numbered years. During the long sessions, we work to craft operating, transportation and capital budgets that are on two-year cycles and take effect July 1. The short sessions provide the ability to approve supplemental budgets that address unforeseen issues, changes in caseloads, or one-time opportunities. In the final days of the 2021 session, all three budgets were passed for the budget cycles that run from July 1, 2021 to June 30, 2023. Here's a quick look at each.
Operating budget | Senate Bill 5092
The state operating budget funds K-12 education, higher education, corrections, human services, and other government operations. It is funding by state taxes (sales tax, property tax and B&O tax), federal funds, tuition, and other sources. I voted against it for these and other reasons:
- It's unsustainable, spending $58.9 billion in state funds, an increase of $7 billion (13.6%) over the 2019-21 budget cycle;
- The operating budget contains a new income tax on capital gains and a new $100 surcharge on recorded documents;
- It transfers $1.8 billion from the rainy-day fund to the state general fund for ongoing operating costs; and
- It leaves a four-year ending fund balance of $98 million ($1.5 billion with rainy-day fund transfer).
Transportation budget | Senate Bill 5165
The transportation budget pays for roads, public transit and related investments. It is funded by fuel taxes, license fees, tolls, bonds, and federal funding. I voted “yes.” Here are some of the highlights of this year's $11.8 billion transportation budget:
- $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;
- $374.5 million for Department of Licensing;
- $224 million for Transportation Improvement Board; and
- $101 million for County Road Administration Board.
Local transportation projects
- $160 million to add lanes on I-5 from Grand Mound to Mellen Street in Lewis County, including north of Harrison Avenue to reduce congestion, improve traffic flow and safety, and enhance connectivity to I-5 from Mellen Street;
- $98.6 million to rebuild the Chamber's Way Interchange;
- $50.5 million to complete a new interchange on I-5 in north Lewis County;
- $10.4 million to replace the Rock Creek Bridge on SR 6;
- $750,000 to design and construct lanes on Mickelson Parkway serving the Benaroya Industrial Park;
- $125,000 to stabilize and rebuild a portion of Coal Creek Drive near Packwood; and
- $24,000 to address safety and congestion issues at I-5/Rush Road.
Capital budget | House Bill 1080
I am proud to serve as the assistant ranking member on the House Capital Budget Committee and helped negotiate this bipartisan $6.3 billion budget for 2021-23 with a collaborative approach across parties and chambers. Here is my speech on the virtual House floor during final passage.
The capital budget supports construction, acquisition and maintenance of public schools, higher education facilities, state buildings, public lands, parks and other assets. It creates jobs and opportunities, invests in critical needs, and improves the quality of life for all Washingtonians. This budget is funded by general obligation bonds, dedicated cash accounts, federal funds, and financing contracts. Here are the highlights:
- $730.6 million for 2021-23 School Construction Assistance Program;
- $326 million to 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;
- $95 million in behavioral health capacity grants for community mental health services;
- $129 million from the Public Works Assistance Account to issue grants and loans to local governments;
- $733 million, including $558.5 million in bonds, for state's four-year higher education institutions;
- $512 million, including $442.6 million in bonds, for community and technical college system; and
- Leaves $82 million in bond capacity for 2022 supplemental capital budget.
Local capital budget projects
- $400,000 for the Lewis County Courthouse;
- $36.9 million for replacement and remodel of buildings and improvements at Green Hill School;
- $300,000 for the Lewis County Seniors (Centralia) from the Building Communities Grant Fund;
- $21,000 for Reliable Enterprises (Centralia) from the Building Communities Grant Fund;
- $2.55 million for a hydrogen fueling station in Chehalis:
- $3.55 million for the Lewis County PUD for a substation and transmission facility in Winlock;
- $2 million for the Fort Vancouver Regional Library in Woodland;
- $14,000 for the Boys and Girls Club of Lewis County (Chehalis) from the Youth Recreational Facilities Grant Program;
- $123,000 for the Chehalis-Centralia locomotive repair (Chehalis);
- $515,000 for the Lake Lawrence Fire Station in Yelm;
- $129,000 for the Lewis County public safety radio infrastructure in Chehalis;
- $824,000 for the Lewis County Youth Services renovation and addition in Chehalis;
- $2.25 million for a pedestrian overcrossing replacement in Kalama;
- $52,000 for the Seminary Hill Natural and Heritage Trail Project in Centralia;
- $1.75 million for the Southwest Washington Grain Project in Chehalis;
- $600,000 for the Woodland Scott Hill Park and Sports Complex in Woodland;
- $1.529 million to the Centralia School District for the Gemini and LTE;
- $8.05 million for the Packwood sewer system;
- $1.85 million for the Vader Wastewater Treatment Plant improvements;
- $3.4 million for a teacher education and family development center, and other improvements at Centralia College;
- $70 million for the Office of Chehalis Basin for projects to reduce flood damage and restore fish habitat.
- $2 million for cleanup at American Crossarm and Hamilton Labree Road;
- $300,000 for a new fish hatchery on the Cowlitz River;
- $239,000 for a fish collection facility on the Toutle River;
- $150,000 for fish replacement passage and Reese Creek Bridge maintenance;
- $200,000 for modernization of schools in Morton, Northport, Pe Ell and Toledo;
- $3.6 million for removal of fish barriers on Mason Creek, Ostrander Creek, and Newaukum River;
- $1.48 million for restoration of the Washington coastline;
- $259,000 for Mayme Shaddock Park in Napavine;
- $283,000 for Werden Park in Vader;
- $5 million for behavioral health expansion for Columbia Cottage at Maple Lane School, Rochester; and
- $15.1 million for a state-operated community civil 16-bed capacity behavioral health center.
Local projects: http://fiscal.wa.gov/CapitalProjectListDistrictBien.aspx
Caution ahead: new taxes, higher fuel prices
There was no reason for taxes to be increased this year, especially since incoming revenues are up by 13.6% and will grow by $4.3 billion in the coming budget cycle without any new tax increases. Unfortunately, despite our efforts to block new taxes, majority Democrats passed legislation this session that eventually could lead to a statewide income tax and higher fuel prices at the gas pumps. Listen to my discussion of these tax increases on KVI Radio. To see all of the Democrats' new tax increases, go here.
CAPITAL GAINS INCOME TAX
I opposed Senate Bill 5096, which will enact a 7% percent tax on capital gains income exceeding $250,000 from the sale of long-term assets, beginning January of 2022. State revenue is up more than $4 billion, so a new tax is unnecessary. Washington voters have rejected various forms of an income tax at least 10 times on the ballot, so it's unpopular. The measure is also likely unconstitutional. In fact, two lawsuits are being filed to challenge the measure. Public records show Democratic lawmakers want these suits so if a capital gains tax is upheld, they can seek to impose a broad-based statewide graduated income tax that everyone would pay. Watch my debate against the capital gains income tax here. As an attorney with a Master of Laws in Taxation from the University of Washington, I have studied and litigated tax issues for many years. This is bad policy, bad politics, and bad for Washington. Read my press release here.
Senate Bill 5126 will establish a new program to be implemented by Department of Ecology to artificially cap greenhouse gas emissions. This damaging regulation scheme will raise the price of gas, food, goods, and heating on those who can least afford it. It will also hurt small businesses and make our state's business climate less competitive. California is the only other state in the nation with a cap-and-tax policy. As a member of the House Environment and Energy Committee, I fought against this and the low-carbon fuel standard bill, House Bill 1091, both in committee and on the House floor. Watch my debate against the cap-and-tax bill here.
LOW-CARBON FUEL STANDARD
Democrats also passed House Bill 1091, which requires the Department of Ecology to create a clean fuels program to reduce the carbon intensity of transportation fuels. A low-carbon fuel standard is a policy that will increase fuel prices and punish those who drive vehicles using gasoline or diesel. Combine this, along with the cap-and-tax bill, and likely a state gas tax increase to fund a new transportation revenue package, and you can expect to pay as much as an additional 55 cents per gallon of gasoline or more. Many individuals, families, and small businesses simply cannot absorb these additional and burdensome costs. I voted “no!”
Assault on your gun rights
My House Republican colleagues and I were able to stop several bad bills that would infringe on the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding gun owners. I am proud to serve on the House Civil Rights and Judiciary Committee and fight for your constitutional rights. Unfortunately, the majority party was able to push one likely unconstitutional bill through. Senate Bill 5038 prohibits open carry of a firearm or other weapons at or near public demonstrations, Capitol campus grounds and buildings, and other legislative locations. Unfortunately, the measure ignores current law and seeks to label and shame an entire segment of our population just for exercising constitutional rights and long-standing state tradition. I was able to have a minor victory by passing my amendment to the bill to clarify some language that was problematic and could infringe on even more of our rights. I spoke against a similar measure in the committee back in February.
One of my primary goals entering the 2021 session was to get our state's economy reopened and get people back to work. It has been heart-wrenching to watch our long-time Mom and Pop businesses close in our small communities, such as Packwood, Winlock, Toledo, and even in Chehalis and Centralia, unlikely to return, as the governor issues emergency shutdowns from the comfort of his office at the Capitol. Those are not only people's livelihoods, but they are the lifeblood of our communities. Besides the closures, the worst part for those businesses barely hanging on is the uncertainty.
Washingtonians were never meant to be governed by proclamation and executive order for months on end. That's why we tried a procedural motion on the House floor on April 16 that would have brought House Bill 1557 to the floor for a vote. This bipartisan-sponsored bill would cause states of emergency to expire after 60 days unless renewed by the Legislature. The measure would have also allowed the Legislature to terminate, on its own authority, an emergency declaration. Such reforms would bring us in line with what many other states are already doing. More importantly, they would provide all 147 state lawmakers a proactive role during uncertain and unprecedented times.
Unfortunately, majority Democrats blocked our efforts to pass any form of emergency powers reform. This means nothing stands in the way of Gov. Inslee continuing his one-man rule of the state, now that the Legislature has adjourned.
On April 16, the governor moved three counties back to Phase 2, including Cowlitz County. On Tuesday, the governor announced a two-week pause on reopening, which means Cowlitz County stays at Phase 2 for at least two more weeks. I am also concerned with the governor's vaccine segregation plans, in which he will allow additional capacity if vaccinated sections are created at sporting events, graduations, religious services and other similar activities. Does this mean unless you “show your papers,” you may be denied access or be escorted to a segregated seating area? It's very concerning that this is the direction the governor is leading the state.
I work for you throughout the year
Although session has ended, my work for you has just begun. Now is the time when I will be out in the community, meeting with people (safely and socially-distanced, of course), to hear from you and listen to your concerns. Some of the best ideas for legislation come from you, the citizens of our district. So please stay in touch and let me know if I can assist you. In addition, you are having trouble with a state agency (we've been helping constituents with unemployment benefits), please call or email my office so we can help. And be sure to join me and my 20th District seatmates, Sen. John Braun and Rep. Ed Orcutt, on Thursday, May 20 at 5:30 p.m. for a virtual town hall meeting. Be sure to register here.
Thank you for the honor of allowing me to serve and represent you!