Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The 2021 legislative session is now in the history books, finishing on Sunday evening, April 25. It was truly a session like no other in the history of the state, conducted remotely behind computer screens where we sat for some days as long as 18 hours, listening to testimony, debating issues and voting on bills in the virtual committee rooms and virtual House and Senate floors.
Even before the session began Jan. 11, Gov. Inslee and majority Puget Sound Democrats based their priorities on a national progressive agenda that formed from the pandemic, protests and a new Democratic Congress and president taking office.
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.
A session like no other in our state's history
Here are several reasons why this year's legislative session was different from all others since the first territorial Legislature met in Olympia in 1854:
- The entire session was conducted remotely via virtual programs like Microsoft Teams and Zoom. Few lawmakers were allowed to remain on the Capitol campus. I did most of my legislative work, including voting, from an office provided to me at the Garfield Hospital in Pomeroy.
- The public was largely shut out of the process. The Capitol campus was fenced off to keep the public away. During the first weeks of the session, the National Guard was brought in to keep people out. Citizens were prevented from conducting rallies on the steps of the Capitol. This has never happened in the history of our state. It was only a few days ago that the chain-link fences were removed after being up for five months at the Capitol. Although citizens were given the opportunity to testify remotely, often they were given only a minute or two before the Democratic committee chair would cut them off in mid-sentence and move on to the next person.
- Seattle activist progressives won, while the rest of the state was left behind. Washington Policy Center Eastern Washington Director Chris Cargill called the session “devastating and divisive.” Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, said it best, “We all live in Seattle now.” Progressive Seattle Democrats, who now make up a majority in the state Legislature, passed a flurry of bills so extreme, it would make the liberal Seattle City Council look like conservative politicians. They passed a new income tax, complex and expensive climate change legislation, gave ex-felons the right to vote, disarmed police officers, reduced charges from a felony to a misdemeanor for drug possession, banned open carry of guns at protests, made Juneteenth a state holiday, mandated anti-racism training in state schools, banned Native American school mascots, and passed an enormous $59 billion state operating budget with new social programs while increasing spending by more than $7 billion.
Read more in our weekly 9th District East Washingtonian article: Progressive agenda of taxes, environment, police reform, overruns real priorities of Washingtonians in 2021 remote session
We are celebrating small victories, such as these bipartisan successes:
- 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.
- Senate Bill 5454 – Washington residents who lost a home to wildfire between Sept. 1 and Sept. 19, 2020, (such as those in Malden) will be exempt from paying property taxes on the full value of the original structure for three years, if the home is being rebuilt or physically improved.
- Senate Bill 5193, Senate Bill 5478 – Unemployment insurance reforms.
The budgets – operating, transportation and capital
In the final days of the 2021 session, the operating, transportation and capital 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 pays for K-12 education, higher education, corrections, human services, and other government operations. It is funded by state taxes (sales tax, property tax and B&O tax), federal funds, tuition, and other sources. In February, my House Republican colleagues released an operating budget framework that showed the state could fund priorities and vital services without increasing taxes.
Unfortunately, the majority party decided to go in a different direction. I serve on the House Appropriations Committee, which approves spending in the budget. Unfortunately, minority Republicans were shut out of the budget negotiation process by majority Democrats who created the final operating budget. I have several concerns about this budget, which I did not support:
- 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.
- 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.
- $101 million for County Road Administration Board.
Local transportation projects
Just over $19 million is provided in the 2021-23 budget cycle for 9th District projects. Some of the highlights include:
- $29.7 million for freight rail track improvements on the Palouse River and Coulee City Railroad.
- $15 million for corridor improvements on SR 395 – Ritzville to Pasco.
- $11.6 million to add a passing lane on US 195 – Colfax to Spangle.
- $2.3 million to add climbing lanes on SR 26 – Dusty to Colfax.
Capital budget | House Bill 1080
The capital budget supports construction, acquisition and maintenance of public schools, higher education facilities, state buildings, public lands, parks and other assets. It is funded by general obligation bonds, dedicated cash accounts, federal funds, and financing contracts. I serve on the House Capital Budget Committee. We worked to provide a very good, bipartisan $6.3 billion capital budget for 2021-23. 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; and
- $512 million, including $442.6 million in bonds, for community and technical college system.
Local capital budget projects
Just over $55.4 million is provided in the 2021-23 capital budget for projects in the 9th District. Highlights include:
- $21 million for the Odessa Groundwater Replacement Project;
- $15.6 million for modernization and improvements for classrooms and buildings in the Garfield, Palouse, St. John and Tekoa school districts;
- $7.5 million for Reimann Industrial Center – Phase One;
- $2 million for Columbia River Water Supply Development Program in West Richland and Pasco;
- $1 million for Esther's Home in Pasco;
- $900,000 for an Adams County property/evidence processing facility in Othello;
- $515,000 for a water conservation system in Othello;
- $500,000 for an upgrade to the Garfield Pool;
- $350,000 for the Lions Park basketball zone in Othello;
- $334,000 for renovation of the Clarkston Club athletic field;
- $266,000 for the Pullman Depot Heritage Center;
- $250,000 for the Pataha Elevator;
- $247,000 for Malden USDA water;
- $150,000 for the Wheat Land Fairgrounds (Ritzville) grounds improvement, including upgraded restroom and shower facilities and Americans With Disabilities Act compliance;
- $131,000 for LaCrosse Rocks! A Heritage Center on the National Geologic Trail;
- $120,000 for the Gladish Community and Cultural Center roof replacement in Pullman;
- $105,000 for Ritzville downtown improvements;
- $75,000 for renovation of Colfax Pool mechanical room;
- $33,000 for The Pit youth facilities; and
- $20,000 for the Asotin Masonic Hall.
The capital budget also provides the following for Washington State University in Pullman:
- $8 million for the campus fire protection and domestic water reservoir;
- $8 million for replacement of Johnson Hall;
- $5.5 million for minor capital preservation;
- $4.9 million for renovation of the Clark Hall research lab;
- $2.5 million for STEM teaching labs; and
- $500,000 for the Pullman Sciences Building.
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, majority Democrats passed legislation this session that eventually could lead to a statewide income tax and higher fuel prices at the gas pumps. Go here to see all the new tax increases Democrats have passed.
CAP-AND-TAX and LOW-CARBON FUEL STANDARD
As the ranking Republican on the House Environment and Energy Committee, I was at ground-zero in the battle over the governor's climate change agenda. We fought hard against very bad legislation, including a bill that would have banned the use of natural gas in Washington state. It truly felt like the battle of David versus Goliath as our small caucus went up against the big guys. While we were able to stop the job-killing natural gas ban measure, House Bill 1084, Democrats were eventually able to steam roll us on two other very disturbing measures: cap-and-tax and a low-carbon fuel standard mandate, both of which passed the Legislature.
Senate Bill 5126 will establish a new cap-and-tax 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.
- Go here to watch my floor comments against this legislation
- Read my article: Cap and tax – a government 'grand heist' of your money
Democrats also passed House Bill 1091, which requires the Department of Ecology to create a clean fuels program (also known as low-carbon fuels standard) 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.
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 Democrat 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.
Governor signs tree bill to cool urban heat-emitting Washington coastline cities
On the warmest days in the summer, Seattle and other coastal cities can be as much as 17 degrees warmer than surrounding rural areas. Rooftops, pavement and other materials create human-made canyons that absorb heat, which not only drives up the costs for residents who use air conditioning, but the warmer stormwater runoff is detrimental to our environment. The hotter temperatures, known as “urban heat island effect,” not only affect the atmosphere, but create warm stormwater and sewage drainage that flows into Puget Sound, resulting in algae and risking fish populations. Seattle is ranked 10th in the nation for its urban heat island effect.
To address this issue, I introduced House Bill 1114. The bill, which was recently signed into law, establishes a program involving municipal electric utilities, PUDs or investor-owned utilities that engage in tree-planting activities. It allows the utilities to solicit and use voluntary donations from customers to fund tree-planting programs. In addition, it would authorize the Utilities and Transportation Commission to adopt a policy to incentivize investor-owned utilities' tree-planting programs and cool roof programs that improve the efficiency of energy use.
The measure also encourages municipal electric utilities and public utility districts to assist customers in the acquisition and installation of materials that would help reduce outdoor heat absorption and provide energy conservation. This would include tree plantings, as well as materials and equipment installed as part of a utility cool roof program.
My legislation is modeled after a successful tree planting and cool-roof program implemented in 1991 by the Sacramento Municipal Utility District in California. More than 600,000 trees have been planted in the Sacramento area since the program took effect, and the utility estimates that customers are saving as much as 40 percent on their cooling costs in the summer.
Strategic planting of trees will create a cooler environment and reduce energy use, creating calmer, cooler cities. It will reduce the negative effects of urban heat islands in our coastal Washington cities, and improve the environment and quality of life.
- Read more about passage of House Bill 1114 here.
- Listen to my Capitol Report program on the tree bill.
It has been heart-wrenching to watch long-time Mom and Pop businesses close in our small communities across the 9th District 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 House Republicans 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, 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 Whitman County. Last Tuesday, the governor announced a two-week pause on reopening, which means Whitman County stays at Phase 2 for at least two more weeks. Frustrated Democratic and Republican lawmakers from Pierce County, which is also in Phase 2, have threatened to call a special legislative session if Gov. Inslee does not reevaluate a reopening plan. You can read more about that here.
I work for you throughout the year
Although session has ended, my work for you has just begun. In fact, I work for you throughout the year.
Just a year ago at this time, I was helping to organize the Great Potato Giveaway in Ritzville and Moses Lake. That giveaway expanded to other communities on both sides of the state, helping to feed people struggling through the pandemic. It happened because of the generosity of our local potato growers who took an enormous lost. I'm very appreciative of them.
My office has also helped people struggling to file unemployment after losing their jobs from the shutdowns.
I am here for you any time you are having difficulties navigating through state agencies. I am also here to 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. My contact information is below and I am only a phone call away.
Please let me know if you have any questions about the 2021 legislative session or the issues covered in this email update.
Finally, thank you for the honor of allowing me to serve and represent you!