Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The Legislature adjourned its virtual 105-day session on April 25. This email update provides a review of the successes and disappointments of the remote session, as well as an update on reopening plans for the state's economy and schools. As always, I welcome your comments.
Reopening the state's economy
For 14 months, Washington has been in various stages of shutdowns. It's heartbreaking to see the small businesses that have been forced to close on our main streets because of the Gov. Inslee's emergency orders. The hardest part for those businesses that have barely survived is the uncertainty.
Washingtonians were never meant to be governed by proclamation and executive order for months on end. That's why several bills were introduced that would have reformed the governor's emergency powers. When Democratic leadership did not allow any of those bills to move forward, 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, majority Democrats blocked those efforts too. This means nothing stands in the way of Gov. Inslee continuing his one-man rule of the state, now that the Legislature has adjourned.
It was quite interesting to see Pierce County Democrats had a change of heart when the governor announced on May 4 he was putting a two-week pause on the state's reopening. It meant Pierce County would continue to be stuck in Phase 2 while surrounding counties were in Phase 3. That didn't seem fair to our Pierce County communities. Even though the Pierce County Democratic lawmakers chose not to help us rein in the governor's powers, I joined with them and three other House Republicans when they asked me to sign a letter to the governor asking him to re-examine his plan “with an eye toward public health, public support, equity and consistency.” Thankfully, the governor has reconsidered.
The governor has since decided that all counties can now be in Phase 3, which became effective Tuesday, May 18. This means 50% capacity for most indoor activities. While that is good news, the best news is that the governor said that on or before June 30, all counties will return to full capacity at a majority of public spaces, like restaurants and movie theaters. In addition, he said the state would immediately adopt new guidance by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which eased most indoor mask-wearing for fully vaccinated people.
Schools to reopen this fall for in-person learning
The other good news we heard is that Washington schools are expected to fully open to in-person learning this fall.
As a foster parent, I know how difficult it is for many of our young people forced to sit at home in front of a computer to do online classes and try to make it through the day. This school model has not worked for most of our students and, in fact, has contributed to a mental health crisis among many of our students, as reported last month in The Seattle Times. This is one of the reasons I sponsored House Bill 1366. The measure would have required school districts that have discontinued in-person instruction due to an emergency, to prioritize instruction for certain students when in-person instruction resumes, including foster care children, students who are homeless, ESL (English as a second language) students, and those with disabilities who are under 504 and IEP plans. Although the bill did not come up for a vote on the House floor, it did increase awareness to the issue. Most school districts are now implementing this policy and prioritizing our most vulnerable youth.
The point, of course, is that we need to get our kids safely back into the classrooms. Under the plan released last week, schools must offer a regular in-person school day to any student who wants it this fall. However, school districts are also allowed to offer remote and hybrid learning to students who prefer those options. This allows parents and students to make the best decision going forward with their education.
Ending the eviction moratorium June 30
As the ranking Republican on the House Housing, Human Services and Veterans Committee, I spent many hours during the 2021 legislative session negotiating equitable rights for both rental property owners and tenants.
Senate Bill 5160 as originally written would have extended the governor's eviction moratorium for two years after the pandemic health emergency ends. This would have been disastrous for rental property owners, who have been unable to collect rent. This bill was very concerning, so when it came to the House, I negotiated a compromise across the aisle with 20 Democratic lawmakers — a fair solution to prevent eviction, keep tenants housed, and make residential property owners whole again. They supported my amendments (see Amendment 654 and Amendment 665) to provide $7.5 million in grants to eligible landlords for unpaid rent during the eviction moratorium and end the eviction moratorium on June 30 of this year.
Unfortunately, Gov. Inslee didn't seem too happy about ending the moratorium. As a result, he vetoed two key sections of the bill that his own Department of Commerce agreed upon with me that would have provided the rental assistance funding from my amendments. Surprisingly, the section that ended the eviction moratorium on June 30 stayed intact.
This rental assistance could have been a big help to both property rental owners and their tenants. Unfortunately, the governor's punitive vetoes now leave them high and dry once the eviction moratorium ends June 30. I issued this statement once I learned of the vetoes.
I also fought against another bill that took aim at rental property owners. House Bill 1236 will force rental property owners to renew a tenant's expiring lease; rent month-to-month unless the tenant agrees to a longer term; and allow occupants to stay on the property if they damage the property beyond the security deposit amount, or even if they say racist remarks to neighbors, the property owner and their staff.
Our debate on the House floor lasted more than seven hours over two days as we tried to bring the bill back into balance with nearly 25 amendments — most of which were rejected. Unfortunately, this measure passed the Legislature and was signed into law on May 10.
- Watch more about my committee activities on rental housing in this video.
The budgets – operating, transportation and capital
Our legislative sessions are constitutionally set at 105 days in odd-numbered years and 60 days in even-numbered years. During the long sessions, we work to craft operating, transportation and capital budgets that are on two-year cycles and take effect July 1. The short sessions provide the ability to approve supplemental budgets that address unforeseen issues, changes in caseloads, or one-time opportunities. In the final days of the 2021 session, all three 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 funds K-12 education, higher education, corrections, human services, and other government operations. It is funding by state taxes (sales tax, property tax and B&O tax), federal funds, tuition, and other sources. I serve on the House Appropriations Committee, which writes the budget. However, I'm disappointed the majority party crafted this spending plan behind closed doors while Republicans were left out. Most concerning to me is that we had 105-days to write this budget and the public did not get to see it until the final two days of the session, when it was voted out on party lines. It should have been a more transparent process. Plus, it relies on tax increases at a time when state revenue has grown by 13.6 percent ($4.3 billion) during the COVID shutdowns. The Legislature did not need to increase taxes!
I voted against it for these and other reasons:
- 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. This is in addition to all the other taxes we pay. No tax was eliminated or replaced;
- It transfers $1.8 billion from the rainy-day fund to the state general fund for ongoing operating costs; and
- It leaves a four-year ending fund balance of $98 million ($1.5 billion with rainy-day fund transfer).
Learn more about the two-year state operating budget here: http://fiscal.wa.gov/OperatingCurrentBudgets.aspx
Budget relies on new capital gains income tax
The majority party passed 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. A new tax is unnecessary. As I already mentioned, state revenue is up more than $4 billion. Washington voters have rejected various forms of an income tax at least 10 times on the ballot. It's also likely to be unconstitutional. In fact, two lawsuits are being filed to challenge the measure. If the courts uphold this income tax, I am concerned this is the beginning of a statewide income tax that we all would eventually have to pay, in addition to all the other taxes we pay. I don't trust future legislatures who may be tempted to lower the income threshold and expand the tax. Therefore, I voted against the capital gains income tax bill.
Foster care budget priorities
As mentioned in an earlier email update, I have been working to increase funding for families willing to take in foster children with severe behavioral or medical problems. KING 5 News documented my efforts in this story. I was later contacted by KING 5 Investigative Reporter Chris Ingalls on another story in which 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 impact to the family was devastating.
During debate on the operating budget on April 3, I offered an amendment which would have required providers of certain behavioral health services for children to give 90 days' notice before closing a home. The amendment also would have prohibited a child from being removed until alternative housing is arranged in coordination with the Department of Children, Youth and Families. Although the amendment was adopted unanimously in the first version of the operating budget that passed the House, I'm very disappointed it was removed in the final compromise operating budget that went to the governor.
Budgets are about priorities. This one failed our foster children. I will continue working on this issue to ensure our foster children have a stable place to live, learn and grow with caring families.
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. Although there were good things in this year's $11.8 billion transportation budget, I voted against it because 26th District did not receive their fair share in this spending plan.
Because of the pandemic, there was less traffic over the Narrows Bridges this past year, and toll collections were down by $14.2 million. The state is collecting federal COVID-19 relief dollars to reduce the impact of these losses, but unfortunately, in the original transportation budget plan, the money was not designated to mitigate the loss at the Narrows toll booths. Instead, it provided a “loan” that extended out the payment of the bridge past 2030. That's not a true bail out as intended by the federal government.
Originally, no addition funding was allocated for the Narrows Bridge. During debate of the original transportation budget proposal, I offered amendments to backfill the loss and prevent an expected 25-cent toll increase. Unfortunately, both were rejected. However, we were able to fight to get money in the final budget for the bridges. My amendments prompted the final transportation budget to receive $16 million in federal money to reduce the impact of the losses. Another $30 million in the form of a loan from the Transportation Partnership Account was also applied to the Narrows Bridge account.
To repay the loan, the state Transportation Commission unveiled a plan May 11 that would increase tolls by 25 cents beginning Oct. 1. Unfortunately, I think the concerns of our local commuters are often overlooked with this issue. We could have made this account whole without increasing tolls, as I had originally proposed. I voted against the transportation budget for these reasons and the fact that we received very little funding for our district.
Learn more about the transportation budget here: http://leap.leg.wa.gov/leap/budget/detail/2021/st2123Bien.asp
Capital budget | House Bill 1080
The bipartisan-approved $6.3 billion capital budget for 2021-23 supports construction, acquisition and maintenance of public schools, higher education facilities, state buildings, public lands, parks and other assets. It creates jobs and opportunities, invests in critical needs, and improves the quality of life for all Washingtonians. This budget is funded by general obligation bonds, dedicated cash accounts, federal funds, and financing contracts. 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;
- $512 million, including $442.6 million in bonds, for community and technical college system; and
- Leaves $82 million in bond capacity for 2022 supplemental capital budget.
Local capital budget projects
I worked across the rotunda with Sen. Emily Randall, D-Bremerton, to secure nearly $10 million for capital budget projects within the 26th District, including:
- $2 million for construction of the new Gig Harbor Peninsula FISH facility in Gig Harbor (food bank);
- $1.2 million for the South Kitsap Community Events Center in Port Orchard;
- $490,000 for Peninsula Community Health Services (dental) in Gig Harbor;
- $450,000 for construction of a Maritime Gallery;
- $370,000 for Filucy Bay estuary and shoreline protection;
- $350,000 for Sehmel Homestead Park turf replacement;
- $316,000 for renovation of the Youth Evaluation and Treatment Facility in Bremerton;
- $269,000 for Roxy Bremerton Foundation;
- $170,000 for the NJROTC/NNDCC Program in the Peninsula School District, Gig Harbor;
- $103,000 for restoration of the Vaughn Library Hall;
- $95,000 for DeMolay sandspit nature preserve bulkhead removal; and
- $15,000 for South Kitsap High School Physical Ed support in Port Orchard.
Local projects: http://fiscal.wa.gov/CapitalProjectListDistrictBien.aspx
Cap-and-trade and new fuels standards will impact you, but not our environment
In addition to the capital gains income tax, the majority party passed two other measures that will increase your price of fuel and energy:
- Senate Bill 5126 establishes a new cap-and-trade program to be implemented by Department of Ecology to artificially cap greenhouse gas emissions. This damaging regulation will raise the price of gas, food, goods, and heating on those who can least afford it.
- House Bill 1091 mandates a low-carbon fuel standard to reduce the carbon intensity of transportation fuels. This policy 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. Both of these measures will have little impact on carbon emissions, but will be very costly for all of us. For these reasons, I did not support these measures.
I work for you throughout the year
Although session has ended, I continue to work for you throughout the year. 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. In addition, you are having difficulties with a state agency, please call or email my office so we can help.
Thank you for the honor of allowing me to serve and represent you!