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Dear Friends and Neighbors,

Less than 22 days remain of the 105-day session, scheduled to finish April 25. For the past two weeks, we have been hearing Senate bills in our House committees, as the Senate committees are doing the same to our bills.

Friday, March 26, was opposite house policy committee cutoff. Yesterday, April 2, was opposite house fiscal committee cutoff. Senate bills that have not passed out of their respective House committees by now are likely dead for the year. House bills not passed out of their respective Senate committees also meet the same fate. Bills necessary to implement the budget are exempt from the cutoffs.

Rep. Caldier speaks remotely on the virtual House floor.

We now begin holding virtual floor sessions all day long, sometimes into the evenings, and like today, even on the weekends, until the end of session.

Budget time

Washington state has three budgets: operating, transportation and the capital budget. The biennial operating budget pays for most day-to-day operations of state government. The transportation budget pays for roads, public transit, and related investments. The capital budget supports construction, acquisition and maintenance of public schools, higher education facilities, state buildings, public lands, parks and other assets.

The current fiscal cycle ends June 30. We need to write and pass new budgets before the Legislature adjourns on April 25 to fund these operations for the next two years.

Operating budget proposals

Last week, the majority party in the House and Senate unveiled their individual operating budget proposals. I am concerned these proposals would grow state spending by $6.4 billion, an increase of 12.4% over the 2019-21 budget cycle. That's a 70% spending increase since the governor took office in 2013. This level of spending is unsustainable and could lead to future calls for tax increases.

Nearly $500 million of spending from a new capital gains tax is also built into these budget proposals. Let's remember that Washington voters have rejected an income tax 10 times. The IRS says a capital gains tax is an income tax, so the proposal is likely unconstitutional in Washington state.

The majority party also passed two bills from the House Finance Committee on Wednesday that could lead to tax increases. House Joint Resolution 4204 would seek a constitutional amendment to add an income tax. House Bill 1406 would create a wealth income tax that at some point could be lowered to affect all Washingtonians. Neither of these taxes nor the capital gains tax would replace any taxes. Instead, they would be in addition to the existing taxes. I will be voting against both of these measures if they reach the House floor.

New and increased taxes are completely unnecessary. A revenue forecast on March 17 revealed that Washington will be taking in an additional $3.2 billion over the next four years without raising additional taxes. Also, the state is expected to receive nearly $12 billion in federal COVID stimulus funds. The state doesn't need to take more of our taxpayers' hard-earned money. There is plenty of funding to meet the state's needs and priorities without a tax increase.

We spent hours today on the virtual House floor debating the operating budget proposal. Republicans offered more than a dozen amendments. Most were rejected, including the one that would have removed the capital gains tax from the budget plan. The final budget passed, 57-41.

Transportation budget

The House transportation budget would spend just over $10.9 billion for the 2021-23 budget cycle. Much of the spending continues the highway projects started under the Connecting Washington program enacted by the Legislature in 2015.

Yesterday afternoon, during debate of the transportation budget, Senate Bill 5165, I offered two amendments to reduce the immediate and long-term costs for motorists using the Tacoma Narrows Bridges. Due to the pandemic, fewer cars crossed the bridges and there was a $33 million loss in tolls.

The state is collecting federal COVID-19 relief dollars to reduce the impact of these losses, but unfortunately, the money is not designated in this transportation budget proposal to mitigate the loss at the Narrows toll booths. Instead, the budget document provides a “loan” that extends out the payment of the bridge and prevents an expected 25-cent toll increase. It's not a true bail out as intended by the federal government. The loan has toll payers continue paying past the 2030 time frame so that the federal money can be used elsewhere. This extension would mean additional costs of up to 25% for maintenance and operations, the toll vendor and maintaining the toll.

During debate, I offered Amendment 505 to make up for the lost toll revenue. I also offered Amendment 504 that would have also prevented the toll increase in addition to backfilling the loss. These amendments would have covered the costs and would have prevented those using the Narrows bridges from paying more and/or paying longer. Unfortunately, both were rejected.

Our district also received very little funding in the proposed transportation budget. For those reasons, I voted against the bill. The measure passed the House, 87-11.

Capital construction budget

A bipartisan House capital construction proposal includes more than $5.5 billion for statewide construction, repair of buildings, parks, infrastructure, and other projects in our communities.

For the 26th District, just over $26 million is provided for local projects, including:

  • $103,000 for Vaughn Library Hall restoration;
  • $316,000 for a behavioral health facility in Bremerton;
  • $350,000 for Sehmel Park turf replacement in Gig Harbor;
  • $490,000 for Peninsula Community Health Dental Clinic in Key Peninsula;
  • $500,000 for Cushman Trail (14th Avenue to 24th Street Northwest) in Gig Harbor; and
  • $2 million for the Gig Harbor Peninsula FISH Food Bank.

The measure, House Bill 1080, passed the House unanimously yesterday.

Click on the photo to watch the KING 5 story.

KING 5 contacts me on foster care displacement

In my last email update, I said I had been featured on a KING 5 News Investigators report about problems in the state foster care program. The story told how I had been working to increase funding for families willing to take in foster children with severe behavioral or medical problems. You can watch that story here.

KING 5 Investigative Reporter Chris Ingalls recently contacted me again when he discovered another story involving a family caring for four foster children who was told to vacate their Renton home to make room for six immigrant children who required less supervision.

The family in Renton has raised and nurtured as many as 20 Washington state foster children in this home for nearly seven years. The house is part of facilities owned by a Kirkland-based non-profit that provides services and housing for homeless and foster youth.

The impact to this family and their foster children is devastating. One child has been to the hospital with panic attacks. Another ran away.

If the state pays an organization more than $100,000 per child annually (your tax dollars), such as in this case, I think the contract must require more than 30 days' notice for a family to move. These organizations contracted to take care of vulnerable children with severe behavioral or medical problems should be required to make those kids a priority, rather than displacing them to house more children who need less supervision.

Think of it this way: For more than a year, the governor has issued emergency proclamations imposing an eviction moratorium. If you are an able-bodied family in rental housing, this moratorium prevents you from being evicted from the home, regardless of the circumstances. However, if you are a foster child with behavioral or medical problems, our system allows for you to be kicked out of your stable home within 30 days. This is not right!

During the debate on the proposed operating budget, I offered Amendment 495 which requires providers of certain behavioral health services for children to give 90 days' notice before closing a home. The amendment also prohibits a child from being removed until alternative housing is arranged in coordination with the Department of Children, Youth and Families. This will prevent future displacements of these foster children. I am pleased to report the amendment was adopted unanimously.

Again, we need to ensure that our foster children have a stable place to live, learn and grow with caring families. And we need to put our foster children first. I will continue to seek ways to do this.

Virtual town hall

I wanted to take a moment to thank all of you who joined me on the evening of March 16 for our virtual town hall meeting. There was great participation, many questions, and I enjoyed hearing from you.

Some of the best legislation comes from the people I serve within the 26th District. Hearing from you is important to me as I vote on your behalf. I encourage you to continue calling, writing and/or emailing my office with your questions, comments and suggestions.

Sincerely,


Michelle Caldier

State Representative Michelle Caldier, 26th Legislative District
RepresentativeMichelleCaldier.com
122H Legislative Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
michelle.caldier@leg.wa.gov
360-786-7802 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000