Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Only two weeks remain of the scheduled 60-day legislative session. We are now beginning to see supplemental budgets released. Here is your update of the latest news from the state Capitol.
Home sharing — A better, affordable option to our state's homeless crisis
The state is spending a lot of money to address the homelessness issue in our state. In fact, more than $274 million is proposed for housing and homelessness programs in the proposed House supplemental operating budget. Yet, with all of the millions of taxpayer money we are spending, why do we still see tent cities along our freeways, parks and alleys? Where is the wisdom of purchasing a handful of tiny homes in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood — some of the most expensive real estate in the state — at more than $300,000 per unit? There are better, more effective, and less expensive options.
One of those options is House Bill 1183. This is a measure I introduced that would create a home-sharing support grant program using some money from the state's document recording fee. The home-sharing program is a cost-effective, innovative solution that matches homeless people with homeowners willing to share space on their property. The cost to get them housed is less than $1,000 on average per person. This measure passed the House unanimously and passed today from the Senate Housing and Local Government Committee. It is being referred to the Senate Ways and Means Committee for further consideration.
We also need to stop passing legislation that makes home ownership less affordable. The cost of housing has become beyond the reach of first-time homebuyers, and government is partially to blame. The Legislature continues to adopt policies that incrementally drive up the cost of housing, such as House Bill 1770, which would change the state's energy code to restrict energy choice and eliminate natural gas and gas fireplaces in new buildings. This bill would also require new buildings to be wired for solar equipment. Washington is rated just behind Alaska as the worst state for solar energy panels.
Some may justify the cost by saying HB 1770 would make homes more energy efficient. However, it would add front-end costs to the price of a home at a time when our state is facing a housing crisis. Individually, such policies may seem innocuous. Collectively, they are pricing people out of the ability to afford and stay in permanent housing. We need to find and enact better solutions to our housing crisis.
It's budget week in the Legislature!
Supplemental proposals for the House operating and capital budgets have been released this week. A statewide transportation spending proposal was released on Feb. 8 by House and Senate Democrats. Here are some of the details of those plans:
Supplemental operating budget
The two-year state operating budget pays for most day-to-day operations of state government. It is usually written and adopted during the long 105-day sessions in odd-numbered years, such as in the 2021 legislative session. In even-numbered years when the legislative session is only 60 days, a supplemental operating budget is typically written to address unanticipated, unmanageable changes in an entitlement program, workload or caseload, or correct technical errors in the original budget. However, the proposal released this week is no typical supplemental budget.
Here are some key things to know about the House majority's supplemental budget proposal:
- It proposes to spend $65 billion in state funds, an increase of $6.2 billion (10.5%) over current 2021-23 spending.
- Families are now facing the highest inflation rate in more than 40 years, which is costing the average household an extra $250 per month.
- While families are grappling with rising costs, the state is enjoying a record $15 billion revenue surplus.
- Despite a historic surplus for the state, this supplemental budget proposal provides no meaningful tax relief to taxpayers of Washington state.
- It would leave a small four-year ending fund balance of $297 million, plus $1.2 billion in the state's rainy-day fund, enough for the state to operate for about 10 days.
- Republicans, such as myself who serve on the House Appropriations Committee, were not consulted about this spending plan.
Budgets are about priorities. It hardly seems fair that when working Washington families are struggling to pay the bills and make ends meet, the state continues to take more of your money, has a record surplus, and no tax relief is provided in the proposed House supplemental operating budget.
There are other very feasible options. I am the co-sponsor of House Bill 1898, that would lower property taxes. We also have bills that would expand the state's Working Families Tax Credit and alleviate consumer inflation. In addition, a budget plan released on Monday by House Republicans would reduce the sales tax, redirect billions for transportation projects, and transfer an extra $1 billion to the rainy-day fund.
Move Ahead proposal falls short of addressing real transportation needs; Bridge toll paydowns yet undecided
On Feb. 8, the majority party in the House and Senate unveiled a 16-year, $16.8 billion “Move Ahead” transportation spending proposal.
The plan would increase spending on transit, bicycle paths and ferries using cap-and-trade revenue and fee hikes. Unfortunately, while the state's transportation system has a $10 billion maintenance and preservation backlog, Move Ahead would allocate only $3 billion to address crumbling roadways and failing bridges.
The good part of this plan is that it does not increase the state's gas tax. However, the transportation proposal would charge a six-cent per gallon export fuel tax to other states that use fuel refined in Washington state.
This export tax proposal has created a firestorm of anger from the governors in our neighboring states of Oregon, Idaho and even, Alaska. Oregon has expressed potential retaliatory action against Washington if this is enacted. An Alaska state representative says he will propose a six-cent-per-foot tax on Washington fishing boats that moor in Alaska harbors, and a six-cent tax on each fish brought into each of those boats. Simply put, this export tax could have major consequences and may not even be allowed under federal law.
I am also waiting to see if legislation will advance that would pay down the tolls on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. I co-sponsored House Bill 1602, and my seatmate, Sen. Emily Randall, introduced the companion measure, Senate Bill 5488. Both bills would transfer $3.25 million from the general fund each year through July 2032 to the Tacoma Narrows Bridge Account, which would lower the amount the state owes on the bridge loan. This could allow the state Transportation Commission to lower two-axle toll rates by 75 cents per crossing.
Supplemental capital budget brings nearly $33 million for local projects
The House-proposed supplemental capital budget would spend more than $1.5 billion on public works and construction projects throughout the state, including $32.9 million within the 26th Legislative District.
The lion's share of this year's allocation, $30 million, would go to modernization of the West Sound Technical Skills Center in Bremerton. About $2 million is directed toward day use development of Kopachuck State Park near Gig Harbor. Money is also provided for barrier removal at Whiteman Cove on the west side of the Key Peninsula near Joemma Beach State Park. In addition, there's funding for Peninsula Community Health Services, Kiwanis Park playground accessibility upgrades in Bremerton, restoration and bridge construction at Harper Estuary in Port Orchard, and for the Gig Harbor Senior Center office.
The proposal still needs approval of the full House and will likely be wrapped up in a compromise conference supplemental capital budget bill that must pass the Legislature before March 10. I will continue to work to ensure funding remains for our important local projects.
Returning to the House floor
During the 2021 legislative session and throughout this year's session, House regulations due to COVID have prevented most legislators from voting in person on the House floor. Although I've been staying in Olympia during both sessions, our operations, committee hearings and debates have been primarily conducted remotely on computer via the Zoom and Teams conference software. Those who have been allowed on the floor have been required to have their booster shots and be tested three times a week. One of the problems with this requirement is that many legislators do not yet qualify for a booster shot. I didn't qualify until recently, and there has been a two-week waiting period after receiving the booster before being allowed on the House floor.
I'm very pleased to share changes in the House operations that will now allow me to actively participate and debate on the House floor. Up to 27 members have now been authorized to be on the House floor, beginning March 1. Previous booster requirements have now been dropped. I'm looking forward to being on the floor, debating and fighting for you!
Proudly serving the 26th District
The photo of Gig Harbor above reminds me of how fortunate we are to live in such a beautiful district. It is such an honor to serve and represent you and our neighbors across the 26th District.
Please reach out to me anytime you have questions, comments or suggestions about legislation and state government. My contact information is below.
Thank you for allowing me to serve you!