Dear Friends and Neighbors,
I hope this email finds you well. The temperatures are warming up and is hinting to be another spectacular Pacific Northwest summer. Today, I want to share a brief update with you.
Washington State Patrol Fallen Heroes Memorial Wall
As a retired Washington State Patrol Captain, I was honored to virtually view the Fallen Heroes Memorial Wall which was recently unveiled in Olympia. The dedication ceremony took place on the Washington State Patrol's 100th Anniversary. This is a permanent wall to honor those state patrol officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty. The Fallen Heroes Memorial Wall is located in the Helen Sommers building on the Capitol campus.
You can watch the dedication ceremony by clicking here.
After more than 18-months in full and partial shutdowns due to the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the governor announced the state will fully reopen on June 30th. This is highly anticipated news; nevertheless, my Republican colleagues and I believe we do not need to wait until the end of the month. The infection rate throughout Washington state continues to decline, hospitals are not overwhelmed, and people continue to get vaccinated. The time to reopen our economy is now.
In recent news, the governor announced a lottery prize program or “Shot of a Lifetime” giveaway series to encourage more Washingtonians to get vaccinated. He stated that if the state can reach a 70% vaccination rate, the state will reopen before June 30. I believe the governor should not put pressure on Washingtonians to make a specific health care decision with publicly funded incentives. The decision to get vaccinated is deeply personal and not something to be taken lightly.
In other news, my Republican colleagues and I will continue to fight against another top-down mandate from the governor's Department of Labor and Industries (L&I). They recently released new guidance stating employers must confirm that their employees are fully vaccinated before ending masks and social distancing requirements.
We have been fighting for emergency power reform since day one of the 2021 session. Even a few of our Democratic colleagues have expressed concern over the governor's unchecked emergency power during this pandemic. Despite our numerous attempts to give the Legislature its proper voice as an independent branch of government during emergency situations, all those efforts remain rebuffed.
The fight is not over. Even when the state fully reopens on or before June 30, the governor does not plan to lift the state of emergency. We will remain under the rule of the executive branch, with no checks or balances exercised by the Legislature. This is not how our state government is designed to operate. We will continue to voice our opposition to this policy!
2021 legislative session recap
The Legislature adjourned for the year on April 25. This was a challenging session as all our work was conducted virtually. Because of this, we lost the comradery of working face-to-face with each other, building relationships across the aisle, collaborating on important policy decisions, and engaging with you on the Capitol campus in Olympia. We were successful in several areas – passing good policy, making policies better, or stopping bad policy altogether.
$2 million in transportation budget funds allocated for 31st District projects
As one of the assistant ranking members on the House Transportation Committee, I had the opportunity to have a seat at the table to review agency initiatives and projects included in this budget. This $10.9 billion biennial budget is both an operating and capital budget. 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, the Department of Licensing and other state transportation agencies. Approximately $2 million were appropriated to transportation projects throughout our district.
$24 million in capital budget funds allocated for 31st District community projects
The final 2021-23 capital budget appropriates $6.3 billion in funds for critical infrastructure improvements including schools, public buildings, low-income housing, water infrastructure, state parks, and several other important public works projects throughout the 31st District and Washington state. Approximately $24 million were appropriated to community projects throughout our district. This included important historical preservation projects, as well as a critical flood control project on the White River.
$59 billion operating budget relies on an income tax on capital gains
The operating budget is the largest of the three state budgets. It 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, funding pensions, replenishing the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund, and improvements to state-managed forestlands. Those are all good policy objectives.
The 2021-23 operating budget increases spending to approximately $59 billion in state funds, an increase of $7 billion (or 13.6%) over the 2019-21 budget.
We could fund everything in this budget within existing tax revenue, yet the majority in the Legislature chose to impose an income tax on capital gains. It is also troubling that this budget diverts most of the rainy-day fund into a separate account to bypass the need for a 60% majority vote to use these funds.
I'm disappointed with the outcome overall. We could have met our obligations and funded our priorities without raising taxes. For these reasons, I had to vote 'no' on this budget.
Despite our opposition, new taxes were imposed on the people of Washington. The biggest addition is the income tax on capital gains. Not only is this tax unnecessary, but it's also highly volatile and likely unconstitutional. It is already being challenged in the courts. Additionally, the voters have said no to any form of an income tax several times. What's troubling is the bill itself contained an emergency clause, meaning this tax cannot be challenged through the referendum/initiative process. At a time when many Washingtonians are still struggling from the governor's restrictions, we don't need to burden them with additional taxes. I believe Washington voters should be able voice their opinion on this income tax via the referendum or initiative process. However, including an emergency clause – even though there is no emergency – blocks that ability.
Police reform and accountability
During this historic session, the Legislature passed – and the governor ultimately signed into law – several bills aimed at greater police accountability. I agree that improvements can be made, and I fully support accountability. Senate Bill 5066 is an imperfect bill, but I believe is a step in the right direction. It passed with bipartisan support, including mine.
Instead of finding the proper balance, several bills will severely hamper law enforcement officers' ability to respond to emergency situations by eliminating important non-lethal tools. House Bills 1310, 1054, and 1267, and Senate Bill 5051, will make it much harder for our peace officers to do their job, thereby decreasing public safety and putting our communities and citizens at greater risk.
Unfunded climate mandates
For years, the Legislature has tried to pass a low-carbon fuel standard. The proposals hadn't made it across the finish line until this session. This is a regressive tax that will hurt people in rural areas the most. It will have little to no effect on our environment. However, it creates more unnecessary bureaucracy and places additional costs onto consumers that businesses will accrue because of this policy. The price of fuel will inevitably rise, hurting low-income and hard-working families.
A cap-and-trade tax was also passed and signed into law.As we have seen with other tax proposals and increases in this state, voters have rejected carbon-pricing policies several times. Despite the bill's intentions, it would have very little reward. Washington state emits less than three-tenths of one percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. If we eliminated every car, truck, train, plane, and boat, the impacts to global greenhouse gas emissions wouldn't even be noticeable. This cap-and-tax plan will hurt economically throughout the entire state, while providing no significant environmental benefits.
In a troubling, and likely unconstitutional move, the governor vetoed the line-item found in both bills that would require a transportation revenue package approved by the Legislature before these bills could go into effect. In 2019, the governor was challenged in court regarding similar line-item vetoes done on the transportation budget. The court ruled in favor of the Legislature's understanding that the governor overstepped his veto authority. The governor will once again find himself in court over his recent overstep of veto authority. I will keep you posted as this moves forward.
Looking ahead into interim
With session now adjourned, I'm back in the 31st District for the interim. As I take this time to reconnect with our community and work on policy for the 2022 session, I encourage you to reach out to me with your ideas, thoughts, questions, and concerns. My contact information can be found at the bottom of this email.
It's an honor to serve you.
In your service,