Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The legislative session adjourned on Sunday night. Unfortunately, it was a difficult session for Washington taxpayers. The majority passed an operating budget with record spending, a capital gains income tax, a low-carbon fuel standard, and the governor's cap and tax program, which means more money out of your pocket.
In this update I will give you an overview of the three budgets that passed – operating, transportation and capital – along with the capital gains income tax. I will follow up soon with another update reviewing the other major policy issues we passed related to the low-carbon fuel standard, cap and tax, open carry, police reform and legislation related to the Blake decision.
Majority Democrats passed their operating budget on Sunday, the final day of session. There were some good things in the budget that reflected the Republican budget proposal we put forward in February, including:
- funding the Working Families Tax Credit;
- addressing wildfire prevention and forest health; and
- advocating for local health funding.
However, I voted “no” as did my Republican colleagues because of many concerns.
There needs to be some transparency. The final operating budget was made public on Saturday. This was the first time Republicans and the public were able to see the 1,102-page budget document. We were left out of the budget process and it was passed within 24 hours.
It is unsustainable. It is the largest budget in state history and continues the rapid pace of state spending – which has increased 74% since Gov. Inslee was elected in 2013. This budget would grow spending by $7 billion, an increase of 13.6% over the current budget cycle.
It unnecessarily raises taxes and implements a capital gains income tax. Taxpayers have faced difficult financial hardship with the pandemic this last year. However, our state revenues continue to be strong. This budget also includes $7 billion in federal stimulus funds. Raising taxes is a choice being made by the Democratic majority party. It is not necessary. Our Republican budget included similar funding priorities, but did not raise taxes and did not cut vital services.
The majority uses a budget maneuver violating the spirit of the rainy-day fund. The Democrats take $1.8 billion out of the state's voter-approved rainy-day fund, or the Budget Stabilization Account, and transfer it to the state general fund. Normally, it takes a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to tap the rainy-day fund. However, because of low employment growth during the pandemic, they can take money out of the account with a simple majority vote. This seems to violate the spirit, and possibly the law, of the voter-approved, constitutionally-protected, rainy-day fund.
These are just some of the reasons I opposed this massive spending plan.
The $11.8 billion biennial transportation budget protects current projects while meeting the maintenance and preservation needs of current transportation systems. With an influx of pandemic federal relief funds, we were able to invest in fish passage barrier removal.
While I did vote “yes” on the transportation budget, I would like to see more equitable and sustainable transportation funding. The pandemic shutdowns have played a major role in the decrease of our transportation funding. House Republicans did get language in the budget that directs the Washington State Transportation Commission to evaluate transportation funding options and recommend new funding sources that do not rely on vehicle owners or drivers. The commission's report is due in the fall of 2022.
The Legislature unanimously passed a strong, bipartisan capital budget, House Bill 1080, that includes more than $6.3 billion for statewide construction, repair of buildings, parks, infrastructure, and other projects in our communities. We secured more than $34 million for the 39th District. These are taxpayer dollars coming back to our region. Some noteworthy projects include:
- $361,000 for the Monroe ECEAP Facility;
- $372,000 for the Arlington Innovation Center;
- $773,000 for the Sky Valley Teen Center;
- $26,000 for the Sultan Basin Park Design;
- $1.3 million for the Index Phased Water Line Replacement;
- $1 million for Monroe North Hill park site;
- $500,000 for State Route 530 (Oso) Slide Memorial Park;
- $1.5 million Wallace River Hatchery; and
- numerous infrastructure improvements at the Monroe Correctional Complex.
The capital budget prioritizes broadband, school construction, behavioral health, and water projects – while leaving capacity to address unforeseen future needs.
Capital gains income tax to become law
Despite bipartisan opposition, Democrats passed a capital gains income tax, Senate Bill 5096. A pandemic is the worst time to raise taxes, plus it is not needed as evidenced by the revenue forecast last month. Washington state is also receiving billions of dollars in federal stimulus money.
The tax is unnecessary, unreliable, and likely unconstitutional. Voters have turned down an income tax or similar measure 10 times. We tried to remove the emergency clause to allow voters a say, but our efforts were voted down.
Keep in touch
While the session has ended, please remember I am your state representative year-round. I expect to be working on many issues this session. Please feel free to contact me with any questions, concerns or issues you have with state government.
Please look for my next email update giving an overview of the other major policy issues that came before us this session.
A reminder, there is a new way to connect with me during the interim. I have a new, official legislative Facebook page. Like and follow to stay updated on what is happening related to the Legislature and on other state issues impacting the 39th District and Washington state.
It is an honor to represent the 39th District!
Robert J. Sutherland
WA State Representative, District 39