Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Thank you to everyone who participated in the telephone town hall Sen. Brown, Rep. Klippert and I held last month. We took a lot of calls, most of which were focused on the coronavirus crisis. We want you to know we hear your concerns and frustrations, and are doing everything we can to convey them to Gov. Jay Inslee and his staff.
During the call, we asked participants to weigh in on a survey question: “Should Gov. Inslee begin to open more businesses that can safely practice social distancing?” Nearly 75 percent of you said yes. We agree.
Earlier this week, the state's Employment Security Department reported that more than 800,000 Washingtonians have filed for unemployment insurance since this crisis began. With our state having already flattened the coronavirus curve, it is imperative that we quickly—and safely—get Washingtonians back to work.
On April 17, Republicans in the state House and Senate released a comprehensive plan to safely restart our economy and promote its continued recovery over the long term. More on that below.
Only recently did the governor announce his own plan to reopen our state in four phases (Phase 1 began May 5). However, this one-size-fits-all approach simply does not make sense. Benton County is not King County. Our approach to this crisis shouldn't have to match their approach. That's why I signed on to a letter earlier this month advocating for a plan focused on decentralization and recovery.
From the letter:
“Each of the 39 counties in Washington are represented by elected officials and supported by staff capable of waging the tactical fight against the virus and its impact on their communities. They have an in-depth, detailed understanding of the resources and response methods that will best suit their county. They also have the ability to be more directly receptive to citizens' needs on a local level and are in a better position to determine which restrictions to impose or modify, which to remove, and the proper timeframe in which to do so. Empowering county-level leaders will have a number of positive effects. It will encourage creative solutions and the development and sharing of good ideas and best-practices, allow our economy to recover faster while still maintaining safety protocols, and it will enable you and your staff to focus on the larger strategy such as acquiring and appropriately allocating state resources and conducting interstate collaboration.“
As the governor's “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order remains in effect, tens of thousands of business owners and their employees simply continue to wait and hope their financial futures haven't been permanently destroyed. Meanwhile, our state now faces a massive budget deficit that will likely require a special session later this year to address.
For years, House Republicans have urged the majority party to budget for the long term and not spend every dime provided by taxpayers. Unfortunately, our words have not been heeded and spending has skyrocketed.
We're now in a position where there are going to have be serious cuts to programs. And although there are rumblings some Democrats are hoping to use this crisis as a way to pass massive new tax increases on Washingtonians, we're simply not going to allow that to happen.
Safe Economic Restart Plan
As I mentioned above, Republicans in the state House and Senate released a comprehensive plan on April 17—the “Safe Economic Restart Plan“—that includes a number of actions our state can take to rebuild our economy.
Immediate action to be taken right now
- Convene a Restart Task Force comprising legislative leaders, relevant executive-branch directors and representatives of the business and organized-labor communities.
- This group will chart a course toward allowing all Washington businesses to reopen, on a phased or limited basis as necessary, with COVID-19 protections for workers and customers in place.
- Fully disclose the “metrics” that must be met before the business-closure order can be lifted or amended. Knowing the standards will allow the people of Washington to act accordingly.
- Deliver on the massive testing capabilities promised by state health officials ahead of the business-closure order. Direct the appropriate state agencies to acquire antibody tests and work with employers to screen workers. Workers found to have the antibodies resulting from the COVID-19 infection will be immediately eligible for employment.
- Interface with the governor's Business Recovery Legislative Task Force and be prepared to support recommendations that are achievable, measurable and complementary.
- Exempt small businesses from paying sales and B&O taxes for one year.
- Offer state-government assistance to the many small businesses in Washington that do not qualify for federal emergency-assistance programs.
- A moratorium on all state-agency rulemaking not related to the current crisis. Rules are important, but at a time when many businesses are simply trying to survive, the making of new rules seems less than essential. Relief from rulemaking goes hand-in-hand with relief from taxes.
- Allow operations to resume in economic sectors that fit one or more of these criteria: low-risk, personal health, environmental protection, aid to elderly/physically challenged, alternate quarantine locations, assisting businesses with tax-related requirements, or property protection.
- Examples are auto dealers, solo landscape services, car washes, remodeling companies/contractors, residential construction, hairdressers/barbers, flower shops, RV parks, dentists, installers of home/commercial security systems, and accountants/tax preparers
Legislative action to be taken in a special session
- Forgive first-quarter small-business B&O taxes for 2020 and allow deferral of remaining quarterly taxes to the end of 2020. It makes more sense for state government to assist employers through this difficult time, so they can return to becoming regular taxpayers, than to see employers fail and drop off the tax rolls completely.
- Forgive payments related to unemployment insurance, workers' compensation and paid family leave for April 2020 through the month that the business-closure order is lifted or amended, as appropriate.
Actions to be taken within 6-12 months of all businesses being able to reopen
- Increase the small-business tax credit to exempt businesses with annual gross receipts of an amount to be determined.
- Business-tax reporting and payment deferral for B&O, sales, and use tax.
- A year-long holiday from the state's unemployment insurance social-cost tax, with the option for an additional one-year reduction in the social-cost tax. Timing would depend on the condition of the state UI trust account (which may shrink despite federal-funding backfill).
- Sales-tax holiday(s) to help jump-start business activity statewide: These would be aligned with known shopping promotions (e.g. back to school, Black Friday, Cyber Monday) and last for several days. Although state tax collections would be reduced, B&O collections would likely increase.
- Aid regarding workers' compensation premiums: Extend L&I's Employer Assistance Program for small businesses for all of 2020. Direct L&I to determine whether it has reserve funds to forgive some premium payments for small businesses with deferrals or payment plans per COVID-19.
- Waive state minimum-wage increase for 2021: With the minimum wage being tied to CPI and speculation that there may be a decrease in the CPI, hold any future inflationary adjustments to the state minimum wage until the index exceeds the January 2020 level.
A reminder to respond to the 2020 Census
The U.S. Census bureau is mailing out paper questionnaires to households that have not yet responded to the 2020 Census. Critical funding for our state is dependent on getting an accurate measure of our population, so if you have not yet responded, please visit my2020census.gov and fill out the questionnaire.
Red Cross blood drive in Kennewick on May 20
I wanted to pass along this message from Michele Roth, Executive Director of the American Red Cross for Central and Southeastern Washington:
Thanks to the many who gave blood and scheduled upcoming appointments, the Red Cross has been able to meet immediate patient needs. During this uncertain time, we encourage individuals to keep scheduled blood donation appointments and to make new blood donation appointments for the weeks ahead to ensure a stable supply throughout this pandemic. It's important to remember that blood is perishable and cannot be stockpiled.
The next blood drive will be on May 20 at the Kennewick Red Cross office (7202 W Deschutes Kennewick, WA 99336). I plan on being there and hope you'll join me. Let's make a difference together! To sign up, click here.
Contacting me and election-year restrictions
I couldn't be prouder to represent you and the mighty 8th District. Please continue to stay safe, stay strong, and take care of one another as we continue to navigate our way through this crisis. All of you are in my thoughts.
NOTE: Due to election-year restrictions that begin on Monday, this will be my last email update to you until after the November election results are certified. The exception is if we go into a special session. However, I am able to respond year-round to constituents who contact me, so please keep your emails and calls coming. My email address is Matt.Boehnke@leg.wa.gov, and my district office number is (509) 873-0008.
It is an honor to serve you.