Dear Friends and Neighbors,
When I sent out my last email update on April 16, Gov. Inslee had just moved Pierce County back to Phase 2.
What a difference a month makes.
Instead of moving more counties back to Phase 2 for failing the metrics he deemed so critical for months, the governor announced on May 4 that he was implementing a two-week pause on rollbacks. He then followed that up by announcing every county would move to Phase 3 on May 18 and that Washington would fully reopen on June 30. While I'm happy about that, the roller-coaster ride he put Pierce County through is why House Republicans pushed so hard to implement emergency powers reform throughout session. The governor having unilateral authority to change lives and livelihoods on a whim is something that should not be taken lightly.
House Republicans attempted to pass Rep. Drew MacEwen's emergency powers reform bill (House Bill 1557) before the end of session, but the majority didn't even let it come to the House floor for a vote. Interestingly, a number of Pierce County Democrats finally did speak out against the governor, but only after session had already adjourned. Had they joined us during session, we would've been able to ensure legislative involvement during this ongoing state of emergency. Instead, the majority made it a partisan issue. We'll likely have to wait until next year to attempt once again to pass common-sense reform that will ensure proper checks and balances during states of emergency.
That was not the only disappointment in the final weeks of session. The majority also chose to pass a new income tax on capital gains and two bills that will significantly increase the price of gasoline over the next several years.
Senate Bill 5096 imposes a 7% tax on adjusted capital gains above $250,000, which is concerning for a number of reasons. First, the tax is unnecessary. Washington has seen greater revenue growth during the pandemic than every other state in the country. Second, it eliminates one of our state's major competitive advantages. We have been one of just nine states without a capital gains income tax. Third, it will drive investors and entrepreneurs out of Washington and deter those looking for somewhere to start a business from relocating here. Fourth, it ignores the will of the people. Washington voters have rejected income tax proposals time and time again. Finally, there's no guarantee the income threshold won't be brought down over time to affect more people. Governor Inslee recently said there are no plans to expand the tax, but plans often seem to change when it comes to taxes.
House Bill 1091 directs the state Department of Ecology to create a low-carbon fuel standard program to reduce the carbon content in transportation fuels. In order for fuel suppliers to be in compliance with this new mandate, they will either need to mix their existing gas and diesel with biofuels or buy credits from suppliers of lower carbon transportation fuels. Neither option will be cheap, and all added costs will be passed down to you and me.
Senate Bill 5126 directs Ecology to impose a cap on greenhouse gas emissions produced by some of our state's largest industries. A program will also be created to track, verify, and enforce compliance. As with House Bill 1091, all added costs will be passed down to the consumer.
The Washington Policy Center's Todd Myers projects Washington drivers could see a 30-to-50-cent per gallon increase in the cost of gasoline as a result of these policies going into effect. I care deeply about taking care of our environment, as I know so many of you do, but I don't believe either policy will lead to a significant reduction of carbon in our atmosphere. What they will do is increase gas and diesel prices, make groceries more expensive, and lead to layoffs in many of our key industries. I don't believe that's a good tradeoff.
2021-23 operating, transportation, and capital budgets
The $59 billion operating budget the Legislature adopted this session will do a lot of good things for our state, including funding the Working Families Tax Credit, replenishing the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund, and addressing long-term forest health needs. The budget also includes $1.32 million from an amendment I offered that will provide three additional mobile rapid DNA units and two additional forensic scientists for the Washington State Patrol. During a House Appropriations Committee meeting in March, I shared why this funding is so important to me.
Despite the good things in the budget, I ultimately voted against it because of its reliance on revenue from the income tax on capital gains I discussed above. We're constantly told by the majority that we must pass new taxes in order to fund new programs, but that's just not true. House Republicans rolled out an operating budget proposal in February that would have fully funded critical state services and made a series of new investments without raising taxes. The majority simply wasn't interested.
Thankfully, we did see bipartisan cooperation when developing the 2021-23 transportation and capital budgets. The $11.8 billion transportation budget will provide funding for the maintenance and preservation of current transportation systems, the Washington State Department of Transportation, the Washington State Ferry system, the Washington State Patrol, and other state transportation agencies. Although the budget was hit hard by COVID, I'm happy to report Sen. Gildon, Rep. Jacobsen and I were still able to keep the Puget Sound Gateway project on track. This project will extend SR 167 from where it dead-ends in Puyallup all the way to the Port of Tacoma.
Other transportation budget highlights include:
- $849 million for preservation and $520 million for maintenance.
- $550 million for Washington State Patrol, including an additional trooper class.
- $541 million for operating costs and $505 million for capital costs for Washington State Ferries.
- $224 million for Transportation Improvement Board.
- $101 million for County Road Administration Board.
The $6.3 billion capital budget will fund various construction projects throughout the state, making significant investments in water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure with the help of one-time federal funds. Highlights include:
- $733 million for the state's four-year institutions.
- $730.6 million for 2021-23 School Construction Assistance Program.
- $512 million for the community and technical college system.
- $326 million for State Broadband Office for broadband infrastructure projects, including $50 million in bonds to leverage other federal funding.
- $200.7 million to begin construction of the behavioral health teaching hospital run by the University of Washington.
- $129 million from the Public Works Assistance Account to issue grants and loans to local governments for infrastructure projects.
- $95 million in behavioral health capacity grants for community mental health services.
Some of the local projects receiving funding are listed below.
- The Sheffield Trail in Fife will receive $1.03 million to widen the trail and fund needed repairs.
- The Fraternal Order of Eagles organization in Puyallup will receive $77,000 for a new multi-purpose room.
- The Meeker Mansion, a historical cultural center in Puyallup beloved by many, will receive $335,000 to preserve historical archives, conduct structural improvements to the building, and install a fence around the property.
- The City of Puyallup will receive $330,000 to demolish parts of an old building in downtown Puyallup, as well as $1.03 million to renovate the Puyallup recreation center on Valley Avenue.
- The Franklin-Pierce School District will receive $3.9 million to construct dual-use classrooms and a community center building at their agricultural farm on Waller and 96th.
- Amara, a nonprofit located in the Tacoma/Midland area that provides wraparound services to foster kids and families, will receive $246,000 to assist with development of its 29-acre property and to expand services that will help meet the needs of our community.
It was an honor to work with Sen. Gildon and Rep. Jacobsen throughout session to secure funding for these important projects. The investments being made are going to make a tremendous difference for our communities for years to come. For a complete list of 25th District capital budget projects, click here.
House Bill 1289 signed into law
The governor recently signed into law a bill I sponsored this session to grow Washington's wine industry workforce.
Under existing law, individuals under the age of 21 are prohibited from working full-time at wineries unless enrolled in a post-secondary school program. If still under the age of 21 upon graduating, the law states they may not continue to engage in wine production-related work. My bill will allow these individuals to work in the manufacturing and production side of a winery as long as an adult 21 years of age or older is on duty supervising.
It is my hope House Bill 1289 will help lead to more interest in viticulture programs at Washington State University and other post-secondary institutions, while also opening up career pathways for young people across our state. I also hope to expand the law to Washington's entire beverage alcohol industry next year.
House Bill 1289 will go into effect on July 25.
Although the 2021 session is now over, please know I am here to serve you year-round. I encourage you to reach out to me with any comments, questions or concerns you have. My email address is Kelly.Chambers@leg.wa.gov, and my district office number is (360) 746-3670.
It is an honor to serve you.