Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The last few weeks of the legislative session will be focused on the state's three main spending plans: the operating, transportation, and capital budgets. We'll be voting on all three proposals within the next few days. If you are interested in weighing in on any of these budgets, this short video explains how to do so.
Unnecessary tax increases
As I shared in a previous update, with rising tax collections, the overall financial picture for the state remains extremely positive. State revenues are up more than $3.29 billion over the four-year outlook. Since the COVID shutdowns, state tax revenues increased by 13.6% and will grow by $4.3 billion in 2021-23. In fact, the last three revenue forecasts have put us back at pre-pandemic revenue levels.
You can watch the Economic and Revenue Forecast Council's meeting at this TVW link.
And yet, despite all the surplus tax revenue and a flood of federal money, both the proposed Senate and House operating budgets include an unnecessary and constitutionally questionable capital gains income tax. Even the Seattle Times editorial board has come out against this controversial tax increase. Read more here.
There's no reason to increase taxes. The much-feared budgeting shortfall never materialized. With tax revenue and federal dollars pouring into state coffers, those who want to increase tax burdens on Washingtonians have few arguments left when explaining the necessity of more taxes. The debate should be about providing tax relief, not increases.
Compensation formulas for the early termination of state-owned land leases
Both the House and Senate unanimously approved a proposal I sponsored that puts better protections in place for farmers and ranchers leasing state-owned lands.
Because the revenue generated from state trust lands provides funding for K-12 school construction and other projects throughout the state, it's in the public's interest to rent that land to the highest bidder. According to state law, the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) can use a non-default termination to replace a lessee with a higher-revenue tenant. However, when the early termination of a land lease occurs, farmers and ranchers—who frequently invest thousands of dollars in the property—face tremendous financial uncertainty.
Working alongside DNR, and several farmers and ranchers from our district, we were able to create a compensation formula that will help offset some of the losses endured when a land lease is terminated early by the state. House Bill 1199 balances the financial investments made by land lessees with the public's interest in profiting from these state-owned lands.
Farmers and ranchers often work these state-owned lands for generations, relying on them for a good portion of their income. I'm delighted to see these financial protections moving forward. The bill now heads to the governor's desk for signature.
The Blake Decision
In a controversial 5-4 decision, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled the state's felony drug possession law unconstitutional. That means the mere act of finding an illicit substance on someone's person or on their property is no longer considered an arrestable offense. The ruling in State v. Blake decriminalizes the possession of all drugs, including methamphetamine, heroin, and cocaine.
I've heard from law enforcement, local elected officials, and others from across the 14th District about how damaging this ruling has been. The court's decision to invalidate the felony drug possession law reverses decades of convictions, related fines, and imprisonment—leaving cities, counties, prosecutors, and law enforcement unsure how to proceed.
As local governments scramble to deal with the aftermath, it's critical the Legislature responds with real solutions. House Republicans recently introduced a package of bills to address the public safety issues caused by the court's decision:
- House Bill 1558 would promote recovery and improve public safety by providing behavioral health system responses to individuals with substance use disorder and providing training to law enforcement personnel.
- House Bill 1559 would provide a behavioral health response to juveniles consuming controlled substances.
- House Bill 1560 would consider the mental state element of a person's intention to knowingly commit a crime (mens rea) involving offenses related to possession of substances.
- House Bill 1561 would expand offenses and penalties for manufacture, sale, distribution, and other conduct involving controlled substances and counterfeit substances.
- House Bill 1562 would allow local governments to enact laws and ordinances relating to possession of controlled substances and counterfeit substances.
Small business grants
In February, the Legislature approved more than $240 million in funding for the Working Washington Grants program. Businesses and industries facing significant challenges during the pandemic can apply for relief. Eligibility will be based, in part, on the following criteria:
- Lost revenue between 2019 and 2020, and any additional expenses to maintain safe operations.
- Industries forced to close because of public health and safety measures.
- Size of the business, based on 2019 revenue.
- Rural or low-income communities from historically underserved populations.
The application portal will be open until COB on April 9, 2021. Click here to apply.
Thank you for attending my recent virtual town hall
Town halls are a particularly valuable way to hear from people. I'd like to thank everyone who took part in our recent 14th District virtual town hall meeting. Although I'd prefer to meet in person, the online format allowed Rep. Gina Mosbrucker and myself to interact with people from across our district and answer questions on important public policy topics. If you were unable to attend, stay tuned. I'll be hosting more virtual meetings at the conclusion of the legislative session.
Stay in touch!
Did you know that you can stay updated on the activities of the Legislature by following House Republicans on Twitter and Facebook, visiting The Ledger, or utilizing the resources listed on my legislative website?
As always, if you have additional comments or questions about state-related matters, contact me.
It's an honor to serve you!