Dear Friends and Neighbors,
It's now been seven weeks since Gov. Jay Inslee announced his “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order, and while our state has succeeded in flattening the coronavirus curve, the shutdown of our economy has come at a devastating cost.
Earlier this week, the state's Employment Security Department reported 810,000 Washingtonians have filed for unemployment insurance as a result of this crisis. To put that number in context, that's enough people to sell out T-Mobile Park for 17 straight Mariners games.
Much has been said about the need to balance public health with economic growth, and I agree that has to be the priority. I do not believe that we must choose one or the other. Like many things in life, we have the ability to manage multiple priorities at the same time.
We know the first reported outbreak of the coronavirus occurred at a long-term care facility (LTC) in King County, and that many of the breakout hotspots have been at these facilities. It is critical that our state take the necessary steps to ensure LTCs get all the supplies, support and tests they need to protect patients and workers in the days, weeks and months ahead.
On the economic side of the ledger, Gov. Inslee recently revealed a four-phase plan to reopen Washington's economy. Phase 1 started May 5. The governor has said each phase will take at least three weeks to get through, but many business owners have told me that's simply not good enough. They fear that by the time they're allowed to reopen, they won't have the financial means to do so.
The governor must have a stronger sense of urgency when it comes to helping those who stand to lose their livelihoods and lifelong dreams. He should trust Washingtonians to continue social distancing while allowing them to provide for their families in workplaces that follow recommended health and safety guidelines. He should also take a serious look at the “Safe Economic Restart Plan” proposed by House and Senate Republicans on April 17. Finally, he should revamp his four-phase plan altogether, as it simply does not make sense for most counties in Washington. That's why I recently signed on to a letter drafted by my seatmate, Rep. Chris Gildon, that advocates 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.“
I want to make it clear that I do not support a blanket reopening of our state. That would not be wise. But we simply cannot allow our economy to be destroyed like this. After all, it is our economy that sustains our ability to address public health concerns and many other public obligations.
We're already facing a $7 billion budget deficit as a result of this shutdown. There are dozens of industries that have done the tough work of developing safe reopening plans and could safely reopen right now. The governor should consider taking immediate action to get these industries back up and running so our deficit doesn't grow even larger.
Special session likely later this year
It is becoming increasingly clear that a special session will be needed at some point this year to fix the deficit crisis. Of course, we never should have been in this position to begin with. For years, House and Senate Republicans urged the majority party to avoid creating new obligations and spending every dime taxpayers sent to Olympia. We were ignored and spending skyrocketed.
Disciplined budgeting is something that many people practice every month with their personal finances. They choose to delay instant gratification for the larger goal of ensuring they're able to weather an economic downturn.
For their part, the majority party's budget writers have done the opposite. They've spent recklessly and are now faced with some difficult choices ahead. They're either going to have to raise taxes or make painful cuts to programs people have come to rely on. If they do try to raise taxes—we're already hearing rumblings that some hope to use this crisis as a way to pass an income tax—we're going to fight using every tool at our disposal. We're not going to let you and your family bear the brunt of their fiscal irresponsibility.
Contacting me and election-year restrictions
Due to election-year restrictions that begin tomorrow, this will be my last email update to you until after the November election results are certified by Secretary of State Kim Wyman. The exception is if we go into a special session. However, I am still able to respond to constituents who contact me, so please feel free to email me anytime at Kelly.Chambers@leg.wa.gov or call me at (253) 840-4526.
It is an honor to serve you.