Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The 2021 legislative session came to a close this past Sunday. From day one, House Republicans worked hard to advance a Real Solutions agenda and defeat a number of harmful policy proposals. Sessions are never easy when you're outnumbered 57-41, but I was proud of how our caucus stood up for Washingtonians and challenged the majority on issues of great consequence for our state's future.
It's unfortunate the Democrats chose to increase taxes, pass bills that will significantly increase gas prices, and reject emergency powers reform. I don't believe that's what Washingtonians wanted to see from the Legislature this year. I touched on these topics and more in a session recap video I recorded earlier this week.
As I referenced in my video update, I've been meeting with a lot of reporters since the end of session, including TJ Martinell of Lens News. I had an opportunity to chat with him the other day for 15 minutes on his podcast. TJ asked a lot of really good questions, including:
- What was your opinion of the entire session being conducted remotely?
- What was the greatest legislative accomplishment this session in a positive sense?
- What was the worst policy the Legislature passed this session?
- What was left undone that should have been addressed?
- Do you think spending was prioritized well in the $59 billion operating budget the Legislature passed?
- Do you believe a special session is likely this year?
- What are your thoughts on the governor's emergency powers remaining unchanged?
I hope you'll give it a listen.
Democrats reject emergency powers reform
All session long, House Republicans pushed for emergency powers reform, culminating with a motion we made on the House floor on April 17 that would have brought Rep. Drew MacEwen's emergency powers reform bill up for a vote. Unfortunately, the majority party locked up against our motion, eliminating the possibility for the House to debate the merits of the proposal. As a result, the governor will continue to rule unilaterally throughout the year, deciding what is essential and what isn't, and which counties should move forward or backward in his four-phase plan.
None of the emergency powers reform bills we introduced this session were partisan in nature. They would have simply ensured adequate legislative involvement in long-lasting states of emergency. I don't think anyone disagrees the governor needs certain emergency powers, but I hope we can also agree there should be limits on such powers. Washingtonians were not meant to be governed by proclamation and executive order for months on end. Unfortunately, it looks like that will continue for the foreseeable future.
2021-23 operating budget
The $59 billion operating budget for the 2021-23 biennium will do a lot of good things for our state, but it also relies on a volatile new revenue source – an income tax on capital gains. Following a six-hour floor debate that spanned two days, the income tax proposal passed on a 52-46 vote last Wednesday. Every House Republican voted against the bill, and we also convinced five House Democrats to join us.
I don't believe there was any need for us to raise taxes this year. Not only has Washington seen greater revenue growth during the pandemic than every other state in the country, but voters have made their opposition to income taxes crystal clear. This tax is going to drive investors and entrepreneurs out of Washington, and make those who were thinking of relocating here reconsider. It's also going to hurt those planning for retirement. Yesterday, we saw the first lawsuit filed to overturn it in court. I'm sure it won't be the last.
In terms of good news with the budget, parts of it mirror the priorities found in the House Republican operating budget framework we unveiled in February, including the Working Families Tax Credit, replenishing the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund, and long-term forest health. Our opposition is rooted in the level of state spending, the reliance on a state income tax on capital gains, and moving money out of the rainy-day fund into a new account. Our budget lead, Rep. Drew Stokesbary, said it best on Sunday: “This budget will make our state less competitive, make our revenue less predictable, and ultimately hurt working families across the state.”
2021-23 transportation budget
The 2021-23 transportation budget passed on a 90-6 vote. The $11.8 billion budget will fund the basic transportation needs of our state by providing funding for the maintenance and preservation of current transportation systems, the Washington State Department of Transportation, the Washington State Ferry system, the Washington State Patrol, and other state transportation agencies.
My seatmate and our transportation lead, Rep. Andrew Barkis, was an important part of budget negotiations. His work and Republican ideas are reflected in the final plan. Here are some of the highlights of the 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.
- $224 million for Transportation Improvement Board.
- $101 million for County Road Administration Board.
2021-23 capital budget
The 2021-23 capital budget passed with unanimous support. The $6.3 billion budget will fund various construction projects throughout the state, making significant investments in water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure with the help of one-time federal funds. Our new ranking member on the House Capital Budget Committee, Rep. Mike Steele, did a great job negotiating and advocating for the needs of our state.
In addition to local projects, which can be found here, other highlights include:
- $733 million for the state's four-year institutions.
- $730.6 million for 2021-23 School Construction Assistance Program.
- $512 million for the community and technical college system.
- $326 million for 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.
- $129 million from the Public Works Assistance Account to issue grants and loans to local governments for infrastructure projects.
- $95 million in behavioral health capacity grants for community mental health services.
Cap-and-tax scheme | Senate Bill 5126
Another controversial bill, and something the governor has pushed hard for, is the cap-and-tax scheme in Senate Bill 5126. The bill will direct the state Department of Ecology to implement a cap on greenhouse gas emissions from covered entities and a program to track, verify, and enforce compliance.
The measure passed 54-43, with every House Republican voting against it. This new, bureaucratic scheme is horribly regressive and will increase the cost of gas, food, goods, and heating on low- and middle-income families across our state. It will be particularly punitive to people who have to use gas and commute to work.
We made these points and more on the House floor when Senate Bill 5126 came up for a vote.
Low-carbon fuel standard mandate | House Bill 1091
On the last day of session, the majority was able to find a compromise on their low-carbon fuel standard bill and send it to the governor's desk. House Bill 1091 will authorize the Department of Ecology to create a clean fuels program by rule in order to reduce the carbon intensity of transportation fuels. Unfortunately, I don't believe this bill is going to do very much to improve air quality. What it will do, however, is hurt Washingtonians financially as new costs on fuel producers are passed down and the cost of gas and diesel goes up.
Overall, the added costs associated with cap-and-tax, a low-carbon fuel standard, and a potential state gas tax increase will devastate many individuals, families, and small businesses in our state. We hear a lot of talk about our state's upside-down, regressive tax system, but then we pass policies like these that directly add to the financial burdens Washingtonians are facing. It's hard to understand, and we need to do better going forward.
Although the 2021 session is now over, please know I am here to serve you year-round. I encourage you to reach out to me with any comments, questions or concerns you have. My email address is JT.Wilcox@leg.wa.gov, and my office number is (360) 786-7912.
It is an honor to serve you.