Dear Friends and Neighbors,
On Sunday, April 25, the final gavel fell on the 2021 legislative session. Because of the pandemic, committee hearings, floor debates, and even constituent meetings were held online. Like many of you, we learned, adapted, and adjusted to our new work environment.
One of the most noted benefits of these changes includes the use of online tools for remote testimony. Any Washingtonian who could get to a computer and register online was able to take part in the legislative process. Remote testimony was conducted via Zoom, as were floor debates. It was exciting to see so many 14th District constituents, previously forced to travel quite a distance to testify in Olympia, take part in the process from the comfort of their home or office.
Although I applaud the use of these online tools, nothing beats in-person interaction when discussing ideas. By the 2022 session, I hope legislators and the people they represent are once again able to meet on the capitol campus to discuss and debate public policy.
The Working Families Tax Credit
As the assistant ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee, I can tell you that ensuring the Working Families Tax Credit was fully funded was one of the high-points of the session. Lawmakers approved this tax exemption in 2008, but for several years it remained unfunded. Similar to the federal earned income credit, the program gives rebates to those who qualify.
House Republicans allocated monies for the Working Families Tax Credit in their version of the operating budget early in the 2021 legislative session. House Bill 1297 became the bipartisan version of that plan, which passed with a near-unanimous vote. Starting in 2023, depending on income, qualifying individuals will receive up to $1,200—with the maximum remittance going to parents with three or more children.
Other Bipartisan Tax Relief Bills:
- House Bill 1095 | B&O tax exemption for amounts received as pandemic financial assistance;
- House Bill 1332 | Property tax deferral during the COVID-19 pandemic; and
- House Bill 1438 | Expanding eligibility for property tax exemptions for service-connected disabled veterans and seniors.
The 2021-23 Operating Budget
As you can see from the chart below, since 2011, the state has doubled its two-year operating spending plan. The final 2021-23 operating budget, introduced in the House and Senate on day 104 of the 105-day session, is a 13.6% increase over the previous biennium, approximately $7 billion in new spending.
Why is this important? Because this rate of spending will eventually outpace taxpayers' ability to pay. The budget does several good things, like funding the working family tax credit, replenishing the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund, and investing in long-term forest health, which should be expected for a budget that spends $59 billion. But it's not sustainable. That means in future bienniums, lawmakers will need to do one of two things, either raise taxes or slash programs. Both of those options will not be easy.
Capital Gains Income Tax | Senate Bill 5096
As I've shared in previous updates, Washington's robust economy continues to produce more than enough in-state revenues to cover all of our state's priorities, including the funding for the working families tax credit noted above and other pandemic-related relief efforts.
But despite a surplus of both state revenue and federal stimulus funds, the 2021-23 operating budget relies on a controversial capital gains income tax. Along with being unconstitutional, this new tax removes one of our state's most distinct competitive advantages: until now, we did not impose an income tax on our citizens. This tax increase is a big step in the wrong direction—businesses, investors, and entrepreneurs—will no longer see our state as the best place to invest.
More importantly, coupled with the unsustainability of the operating budget noted above, the capital gains income tax creates the perfect foot-hold necessary in later years to deploy income tax for all Washingtonians.
You can watch my remarks during House floor debate on Senate Bill 5096 below:
Emergency powers reform
Both sides of the aisle continue to be concerned about emergency powers reform. For more than a year, the executive branch alone has issued official restrictions, guidelines, and proclamations. The public should have a say in decisions of this magnitude. That's the role of the Legislature.
While I agree the governor needs to respond quickly to natural disasters, pandemics, and other emergencies, it should not be for extended periods of time. There need to be some limits. House Bill 1557 is a bipartisan effort to restore the proper balance of power. The proposal would give the legislative branch more oversight in long-lasting states of emergency. Unfortunately, the bill was not approved this year. Thankfully, plans are already underway to reintroduce the bill again in 2022.
Blake Decision | Criminal drug penalties
Senate Bill 5476 partially addresses the state Supreme Court's Blake ruling earlier this year, which struck down Washington's felony drug possession law. But it's only a temporary fix. For the next two years only, drug possession will be a misdemeanor. The criminal penalty provisions will expire on July 1, 2023, once again leaving Washington state without a law against drug possession.
During a lengthy floor debate on the measure, lawmakers discussed the best approach to helping those suffering from drug addiction. Do criminal penalties and incarceration save lives? In many cases, the answer is yes. But I also agree we need to balance those penalties with expanded treatment options.
I think lawmakers can do better than Senate Bill 5476. I voted “yes” only because the alternative would mean drug possession remained legal. My hope by the next legislative session, both sides of this issue come together to create a law that adequately balances criminal penalties with help for the drug-addicted.
Virtual Town Hall Meeting | 14th District
Please watch your email box. I'll be sending an invitation soon so you can join me and my seatmate, Rep. Gina Mosbrucker, for a virtual town hall meeting. We'll be sharing an update on the bills, budgets, and debates from the 2021 legislative session. I will send the town hall meeting date and registration link in the next few days.
Stay in Touch
Although the 2021 session has ended, I serve you year-round. Throughout the interim, I'll be sending updates and information on my work for the 14th District. I encourage you to reach out to me if you have questions or comments on state-government related issues.
It's an honor to serve you!