Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The final gavel on Sunday, April 25, concluded one of the most unique and challenging legislative sessions in state history. Although sometimes difficult to navigate, by-in-large working remotely during the 2021 virtual session went relatively well. Committee hearings, floor debates, even constituent meetings were all held online. Despite some of the obvious inefficiencies, we were able to get the work of the people done.
Although I applaud the use of emerging communication technologies to increase citizen involvement—like remote testimony—nothing beats in-person interaction when discussing ideas. I'm already looking forward to the next legislative session when I hope legislators are able, once again, to meet face-to-face with each other and the people they represent to discuss and debate public policy.
2021-23 Operating Budget
The majority party in the House and Senate released the $59 billion two-year state operating budget on day 104 of the 105-day session. The plan includes a 13.6% increase over the previous biennium and approximately $7 billion in new spending.
As you can see from the chart attached below, since 2011 we've doubled the state's operating budget. Why is that important? In future years, state spending will outpace the taxpayer's ability to pay for it. The legislative buzz word for that is “unsustainable.” Spending at this rate will eventually require one of two things: devastating cutbacks or tax increases. Neither of those options will be easy.
Capital Gains Income Tax
Despite billions in surplus state revenues and federal stimulus funds, the budget relies on a controversial capital gains income tax, a 7% tax payment to the state for specific capital gains over $250,000. There was no reason to raise taxes this year. Washington realized more revenue growth during the pandemic than any other state in the nation. Among other disadvantages, this tax will damage our competitive advantage, causing investors and entrepreneurs to look elsewhere to conduct their business. This tax is unconstitutional, unnecessary, and a major step toward a state income tax.
Watch my legislative update video, which includes my remarks during House floor debate on Senate Bill 5096.
Working Families Tax Credit
There is good news in this budget. As working individuals and families continue to grapple with the financial impact of the pandemic, the Legislature took steps to relieve the burden on those that earn the least. For the first time in state history, the working families' tax credit will be fully funded.
In 2008, lawmakers approved this tax exemption, but for more than thirteen years it remained unfunded. Similar to the federal earned income credit, the program gives rebates back to those who qualify. House Republicans originally allocated monies for the working families' tax credit in their version of the operating budget early in the 2021 legislative session.
House Bill 1297 became the bipartisan version of that plan, which passed with a near-unanimous vote. Starting in 2023, depending on income, qualifying individuals will receive up to $1,200—with the maximum remittance going to parents with three or more children. I'm thrilled to see this program finally get put to use.
A bipartisan issue | Reforming the governor's emergency powers
Reforming the governor's emergency powers is a bipartisan issue. The pandemic expanded the role of government in ways few of us expected to see in our lifetime. That includes the extensive authority used by the executive branch since the start of the state of emergency.
For over 14 months, we've been living under the governor's declared state of emergency. During that time, restrictions placed on counties across our state, and other decisions of this magnitude, have been made by the executive branch alone. That's concerning to Democrats and Republicans alike.
Some states, Republican and Democrat, have amended their emergency powers laws during the pandemic. Currently, Washington state ranks near the bottom in terms of governmental balance of power.
While I agree the governor needs to be able to respond quickly to natural disasters, pandemics, and other emergencies, there need to be some limits. Executive authority, without public input, should not extend for months on end. The public deserves a voice in the process. That's the role of the Legislature.
House Bill 1557 is a bipartisan effort to restore the proper balance of power. The proposal would give the legislative branch more oversight in long-lasting states of emergency. In my opinion, it was a missed opportunity that the bill was not approved this year. I'm glad Democrats and Republicans plan to reintroduce House Bill 1557 again in the 2022 session.
Blake Decision | Criminal drug penalties
As the legislative session drew to a close, lawmakers approved Senate Bill 5476 that partially addresses the state Supreme Court's Blake ruling, which struck down Washington's felony drug possession law. The measure is a temporary fix. For the next two years only, drug possession will be a misdemeanor. The criminal penalty provisions will expire on July 1, 2023, once again leaving Washington without a law against drug possession.
On the House floor, lawmakers struggled over the right approach to both criminal drug possession and treatment for addicts. Much of the debate was focused on getting those suffering from drug addiction the help they need. I agree that we should expand treatment options. But sometimes sending people to jail can save their lives. We need to balance treatment with criminal penalties. I voted “yes” to this temporary solution because it was better than the alternative which would have allowed drug possession to remain legal. My hope is that at a future date we can do a better job at bringing both sides of this important debate together.
Upcoming | 10th District Virtual Town Hall Meeting
Please watch your email box. I'll be sending an invitation soon so you can join me and my 10th District colleagues, Sen. Ron Muzzall, R-Oak Harbor, and Rep. Dave Paul, D-Oak Harbor for a virtual town hall meeting. We'll be sharing an update on bills, budgets, and debates from the 2021 legislative session. The town hall meeting date, and link to register, will be sent in a future update.
Stay in Touch
Although the 2021 session has ended, I serve you year-round. Throughout the interim, I'll be sending updates and information on my work for the 10th District. I encourage you to reach out to me if you have questions or comments on state-government related issues.
It's an honor to serve you!
In your service,