Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The 2019 legislative session concluded right on the stroke of midnight on Sunday, April 28. Let me tell you, it was a hard-fought battle. Every member of the House Republican caucus worked across the aisle with our Democrat colleagues by offering commonsense, reasonable and fiscally responsible solutions to the challenges they brought forward for the 105-days we were all together.
In this legislative recap, I'll provide the good, the in-between, and the bad of it all.
The Good | Two fiscally responsible budgets
Let's start with some good news. Two of the state's major biennial budgets – capital and transportation – will bring funding to the 39th District for much needed infrastructure, construction and community projects. I proudly supported both of these budgets.
The final 2019-211 capital budget appropriates $4.9 billion for projects statewide, including historic investments in mental and behavioral health, K-12 school construction, and affordable housing. The graphic below shows the funding level and project title for some of the 39th District projects. For a complete list, please visit http://fiscal.wa.gov/BudgetCProjList.aspx.
The final 2019-21 transportation budget appropriates $9.8 billion to fund essential infrastructure projects across the state, including maintenance and preservation of current transportation systems, the Washington State Ferry system, the Washington State Department of Transportation, the Washington State Patrol, and other state transportation agencies. The graphic below shows the funding level and project title for some of the 39th District projects. For a complete list, please visit http://fiscal.wa.gov/BudgetTProjList.aspx.
The Good | Bipartisan successes
We had several bipartisan successes during our 105-day session. It's fair to say important investments were made and good policy passed in the following areas:
- House Bill 1065 will prohibit the practice of “balance” or “surprise” billing by out-of-state medical providers.
- House Bill 1166 will set a deadline of December 2021 for the Washington State Patrol to eliminate the rape kit backlog.
- House Bill 1713 will advance the investigations and discovery of missing and murdered Native American women.
- House Bill 1784 will require the Department of Natural Resources to prioritize forest health treatments to specifically, and strategically, include long, narrow wildfire prevention corridors and provide information to firefighting personnel.
- Senate Bill 5380 will establish new rules regarding opioid prescriptions, dispensing of opioid overdose reversal medication, and require physicians to discuss alternatives to opioids with patients before prescribing.
- Senate Bill 5649 will eliminate the statute of limitations for most sex crimes committed against minors. It will also extend the statute of limitations for most other sex offenses.
The In-Between | Bad bills stopped but not killed
There were several harmful policies that Republicans fought hard to ensure were not passed during the 2019 session. Several of these policies were stopped because you participated in the legislative process, and came to Olympia to let your voices be heard. The good news is, together we were successful in stopping some terrible policies.
- House Bill 1068 would have prohibited high capacity firearm magazines over 15 rounds.
- House Bill 1110 would have created a new low carbon fuel standard program – increasing the price of gas and goods.
- House Bill 1515 would have forced many individual contractors to work as an employee, as opposed to being their own boss.
- House Bill 2156 would have created a new income tax on capital gains.
- Senate Bill 5395 would have required every school to provide comprehensive sex education.
The bad news is you can expect all of these policies to resurface for the 2020 legislative session.
The Bad | 2019-21 Operating budget
The Democrats' $52.4 billion operating budget increases state spending by $8 billion, an 18 percent increase over current spending levels. This is not responsible or sustainable. It leaves our state vulnerable for the next economic downturn – which state economists predict is not too far off the horizon.
The Democrats' big dreams comes with big price tags but no accountability or spending reforms to help control the growth of government spending.
There was also a procedural issue with how the Democrats swiftly moved this budget through the legislative process with no transparency. Republicans were not invited into budget negotiations, eliminating any opportunity for a bipartisan budget that represents the needs of all Washingtonians.
The budget also wasn't available to you – or us for that matter – until day 104 of the 105-day session. You have the right to know how the state is spending your tax dollars, and should have the opportunity for meaningful review and comment.
The Bad | Taxes, taxes and more taxes
Even though the state is in the best financial position it has been in since the Great Recession, the Democrats chose to raise your taxes by $2 billion over the next four years.
The major taxes include:
- A business and occupation (B&O) tax surcharge on services that will impact 90,000 employers and raise costs for consumers. | House Bill 2158
- A new, graduated real estate excise tax (REET) that will restrict housing supply, increase rents and harm our economy. | Senate Bill 5998
- A B&O tax increase on certain banks that will result in costs being passed on to the customers. | House Bill 2167
- Creation of a new state government long-term care benefit funded by a new employee-paid payroll tax. | House Bill 1087
- Ending the sales tax exemption for Oregonians, which will drive away business from border communities. | Senate Bill 5997
- A higher tax on oil that will increase the price of gas. | Senate Bill 5993
This $2 billion number doesn't include the school levy lift (Senate Bill 5313), which will increase property taxes for families across the state by modifying the amount local levies can collect for K-12 enrichment programs.
The chart below is a graphical representation of the taxes passed by the Democrats. The 2019-21 operating budget directly relies on all of the taxes not shaded.
If anything, the debate this session should've been about tax relief – not tax increases. For these reasons, I could not support this massive tax and spend plan.
Stay in touch!
Now that session has ended, I'm back in the 39th District for the interim. It feels great to be home! Even though my time has ended in Olympia for the year, I'm your state representative year-round. Interim gives me the chance to connect with you at your convenience throughout the district.
It's an honor to serve you.
Robert J. Sutherland