Dear Friends and Neighbors,
As we move through interim and inch closer to the start of the 2024 legislative session, I wanted to send this update to let you know what I’m focused on and looking ahead to. In my last update, I shared that lawmakers had been called into a one-day special session to fix the state Supreme Court’s Blake decision. That special session was held on May 16. Thankfully, we were able to pass a compromise bill designed to help curb the possession and use of hard drugs in our state. Had we failed to pass that bill, there would be no statewide criminal penalty right now for the possession of fentanyl, heroin, methamphetamine, and other hard drugs.
While the solution we passed is not perfect, I believe it represents an important blending of accountability and compassion that will hopefully keep our communities safer and help those struggling with addiction.
Gas prices in Washington remain above $5 per gallon
Perhaps no issue has garnered more attention over the past several months than the price of gas. In June, Washington was home to the nation’s most expensive gas for the first time in history. While we’ve since been surpassed by California, the average price-per-gallon across our state is still $5.13, which is $1.32 above the national average.
Despite what Governor Inslee says, this did not happen because of a closed fuel pipeline or greedy oil companies. This happened because of legislation championed by the governor and passed by majority Democrats during the 2021 session. Senate Bill 5126, the Climate Commitment Act—also known as cap-and-trade—is requiring companies that emit carbon dioxide, including oil companies, to buy allowances at state auctions. Those allowances are adding as much as 50 cents per gallon as they’re passed down to drivers.
As you can see in the chart below, Washington and Oregon had very similar gas prices for much of 2021 and 2022. However, prices diverged in January 2023 when the cap-and-trade and low-carbon fuel programs passed by Democrats in 2021 took effect.
As you’ll see in the mashup videos below, House Republicans fought hard against both of these programs. We warned they would have devastating economic consequences, and that has indeed been the case.
Low-carbon fuel standard:
Cap-and-trade (also known as cap-and-tax and the Climate Commitment Act):
While the likelihood of eliminating either of these programs is remote at best, House Republicans have developed a plan that would provide relief (up to $200 per family) to drivers starting in July 2024. Developed by Reps. April Connors and Mary Dye, the proposal would send excess revenue from cap-and-trade auctions to vehicle owners in the form of a check. After receiving the initial July payment, registered vehicle owners would receive an annual check when renewing their vehicle tabs. The amount of the check would vary depending on how much the state has collected above what was forecasted to be collected when Senate Bill 5126 passed.
House Republicans will be united in our support of this proposal during the 2024 legislative session. We will also continue inviting the majority to join us in our efforts to provide financial relief for families in other ways.
Salmon recovery needs to be a bigger priority for the Legislature
One of the issues I’ve been most passionate about since joining the Legislature is salmon recovery. Salmon have always played a critical role in our state’s culture, history, ecosystem, and economy. They have been central to the way of life for indigenous communities such as the Nisqually for centuries, and continue to hold immense cultural and economic significance. The decline of salmon populations threatens their very way of life, as well as the livelihoods of all others who rely on salmon fisheries for their income and sustenance.
Salmon also serve as a keystone species in Washington’s ecosystems. They act as nutrient transporters, carrying valuable marine nutrients upstream into freshwater habitats when they return to spawn and die. This process enriches the entire ecosystem, benefiting not only other fish species but also terrestrial wildlife and plants. Moreover, their presence contributes to the health of rivers and streams.
A healthy salmon population is also critical for the long-term sustainability of Washington’s economy. The state’s salmon fisheries have historically been a significant economic driver, supporting thousands of jobs and generating millions of dollars in revenue. A decline in salmon populations not only jeopardizes these economic opportunities, but also threatens the tourism industry, as salmon are a major attraction for sport fishing and wildlife enthusiasts.
Despite lawmakers allocating billions of dollars toward recovery and restoration projects, salmon populations have continued to struggle. Worse still, this failure has created divisions among those who should be united. I don’t want to see tribes, sport and commercial fishers, environmental groups, and others fighting over salmon. I also don’t want to see landowners, many of whom have already made great sacrifices with their property, be asked to pay more of a price for urban habitat degradation.
It is clear we need to evaluate our existing strategies and think about deploying new strategies that will make a significant difference in a timely manner. That’s what I’ve been spending much of this interim working on, meeting with policy experts and discussing what legislation I can introduce and garner support for in the upcoming legislative session. Clean water, habitat, and hatcheries are all areas of focus for me, as well as ensuring we have all the data we need to tackle this problem in full. If we’re too focused on the wrong solutions, we must address that. If we’re not properly allocating existing resources, or if more resources are needed, we must address that as well. There are a plethora of great habitat projects waiting in line for funding. And on the topic of funding, if lawmakers are going to demand drivers pay more at the pump for carbon, they should be willing to fund past promises, such as those on salmon recovery, with those dollars first.
I’ll have more on this topic in future updates. In the meantime, I welcome your comments and ideas.
Looking ahead to the 2024 legislative session
Right now in Washington state, we have a drug crisis, a crime crisis, a homelessness crisis, an affordable housing crisis, a police officer recruitment and retention crisis, and many others. None of these problems are new, and yet none have been adequately addressed by the Legislature in recent years. In fact, many policies that have been passed by the majority have made these problems worse. For our part, House Republicans have been relentless in our development and promotion of policies that would make a meaningful and positive difference. Progress has been hard to come by, of course, because we’re in the minority, but we won’t give up in our pursuit to make your life more affordable, make communities safer, hold state government accountable, and fix the failures we’re seeing. As we do every session, we’ll continue inviting the majority to work with us for the benefit of all Washingtonians.
Please continue reaching out to me with your comments, questions and concerns. My email address is JT.Wilcox@leg.wa.gov, and my office number is (360) 786-7912.
It is an honor to serve you.