Dear Friends and Neighbors,
This year's 105-day legislative session ended on a disappointing note, as the majority party approved $2 billion in tax increases in the dead of night before ultimately passing the 2019-21 operating budget.
While it was always likely that larger Democrat majorities in the House and Senate would lead to tax hikes this year, there was a total lack of transparency in how the process played out on the final weekend of session. Normally, Washingtonians are given an opportunity to make their voices heard before bills come to the floor for a vote. That wasn't the case when it came to the majority's tax proposals.
They decided to use “title-only” bills—which have a generic title, but no actual policy details—to serve as placeholders until they knew which taxes they were going to bring to the floor. In doing so, they were able to cut the public out of the process entirely. It was a cynical move, and newspaper editorial boards across the state took notice. Below are some of the headlines:
- New tax hard to swallow; Washington Democrats pull fast one in Legislature's last weekend
- A troubling short cut for state tax increase on banks
- Washington lawmakers dodge the constitution with title-only bills
- State budget process in need of transparency
In order to increase spending 18% above current levels, the majority's two-year, $52.4 billion operating budget relies on the following taxes:
- A business and occupation (B&O) tax surcharge on services that will impact 90,000 employers and raise costs for consumers.
- A new, graduated real estate excise tax (REET) that will restrict housing supply, increase rents and harm our economy.
- A higher tax on oil that will increase the price of gas.
- A B&O tax increase on large banks that will result in costs being passed on to customers.
- A change to the nonresident sales tax exemption, which will result in fewer Oregonians shopping at Washington businesses in our border communities.
Keep in mind the $2 billion in tax increases doesn't include a new levy lift bill (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.
With this budget, state spending will have increased 70% since 2013. When a recession finally does come, I believe budget writers are going to be wishing they been a lot more fiscally responsible with your tax dollars.
2019-21 transportation and capital budgets provide funding for 8th District projects
Although passage of the operating budget is always contentious, the same can't be said for passage of the state's two other budgets—transportation and capital. As usual, both budgets were approved with broad bipartisan support.
The transportation budget allocates funding for the development and maintenance of the state's transportation infrastructure, while the capital budget allocates funding for public works projects statewide.
In an article last week, Wendy Culverwell with the Tri-City Herald did a great job summarizing the major local projects being funded by the 2019-21 transportation budget. You can read her piece here.
In terms of the capital budget, below are several of the projects that will be receiving funding this biennium.
- $27 million to build the WSU Tri-Cities Academic Building.
- $15.2 million to build a new military readiness training center.
- $8.3 million to accelerate grid-scale energy storage technology research at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
- $7.7 million for the design and construction of a LIGO STEM Exploration Center at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory.
- $1.1 million to the Boys & Girls Club of Benton and Franklin counties for its Kennewick Clubhouse project.
- $1 million for the Tri-Tech Skills Center.
- $800,000 to the Richland School District for an early learning facility.
These projects are going to make a tremendous difference for our communities in the 8th. I was honored to work with Sen. Sharon Brown and Rep. Brad Klippert to secure funding for them.
An overview of key legislation this session
While we were bitterly divided on many issues this session, Republicans and Democrats worked together on a number of important priorities:
- The 2019-21 capital budget provides record funding for mental and behavioral health infrastructure around the state. My good friend and colleague, Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton, has been a tremendous leader on this issue.
- Senate Bill 5380 will establish new rules regarding opioid prescribing and the dispensing of opioid overdose reversal medication. It will also require physicians to discuss alternatives to opioids with patients before prescribing them.
- Senate Bill 5091 will increase the excess cost multiplier for special education students, which will result in more funding.
- Senate Bill 5511 will expand broadband to enable economic development, public safety and health care across our state.
- Senate Bill 5649 will eliminate the statute of limitations for most sex crimes committed against minors, and extend the statute of limitations for most other sex offenses.
In other good news, Republicans in the Legislature and thousands of citizens who spoke out helped stop a number of harmful policies this session:
- House Bill 1068, which was requested by Attorney General Bob Ferguson, would make it unlawful for Washingtonians to possess firearm magazines that hold more than 15 rounds of ammunition.
- House Bill 1110 would create a new low carbon fuel standard program, which would significantly increase the price of gas and goods.
- House Bill 1491 would restrict scheduling options for employees and employers, hurting various industries around the state.
- House Bill 1515 would force many individual contractors to work as employees as opposed to being their own boss.
- Senate Bill 5395 would require every school to provide comprehensive sex education.
Although these bills did not advance this year, keep in mind they will be up for consideration again next year, as will the following Republican-sponsored bills:
- House Bill 1035 would provide every public school with funding to employ a full-time school resource officer.
- House Bill 1235 would make it a crime to show harmful materials to a minor.
- House Bill 1588 would prevent local governments from imposing an income tax on an individual or household income.
- House Bill 2149 would improve our state budgeting process through zero-based budget reviews.
- House Bill 2150 would implement the periodic review of state spending programs.
- House Bill 2152 would extend the period through which a state budget must be balanced from four years to six years.
Although session has now adjourned, please know I'm here to serve you year-round. If you'd like to meet with me during interim, please send an email to my legislative assistant, Jennifer, to set up a time. I also welcome your comments, questions and concerns about legislative issues, as well as your ideas about about how we can make the 8th District an even better place to live.
It is an honor to serve you.