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Dear Friends and Neighbors,

The Legislature recently adjourned the 2021 virtual session. This end-of-session review covers a number of issues as we debated many major policy issues this session. I hope you will contact me with any questions or concerns about the legislation or issues in this update.

Operating budget

The $58.9 billion operating budget passed at the end of session does some good things for the state of Washington. It includes priorities found in the House Republican operating budget framework such as the Working Families Tax Credit, replenishing the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund, and long-term forest health.

However, I could not support the operating budget. I was concerned about the lack of transparency with the budget process. The operating budget was negotiated behind closed doors. The 1,102-page final spending plan was unveiled on the last Saturday of session, we voted on it the next day, and then we adjourned. The public, as well as us in the minority party had about 24 hours to digest it.

The budget also relies on a state income tax on capital gains (more on that later) and moving money out of the rainy-day fund. The majority party takes $1.8 billion out of the state's voter-approved rainy-day fund, or the Budget Stabilization Account. Only a simple majority vote was needed to access the rainy-day fund, instead of the normal two-thirds vote of the Legislature, because of low employment growth during the pandemic. This seems to violate the spirit, and maybe the law, of the voter-approved, constitutionally-protected, rainy-day fund.

My biggest concern is that this budget is not sustainable. It increases spending by $7 billion, or more than 13% over the previous biennium. I was first elected in 2015 and when I came into office our budget was just under $34 billion. This year it is approaching $60 billion, an increase of around 70%. I don't know how we can keep up this pace of spending. Our revenues have exceeded expectations through the pandemic, but many businesses and industries have a long way to go to recover and we still face a lot of economic uncertainty.

Capital budget

The capital budget is a bipartisan, collaborative effort, passing unanimously in both chambers. It includes a historic $413 million investment in broadband internet access around the state, $258,000 for an agriculture pilot project in the 13th District and nearly $1 billion for K-12 and early education, with significant funding for small schools and early learning centers.

Projects in the 13th District include:

  • $1.9 million CSML food bank facility (Moses Lake);
  • $1.5 million FISH Community Food Bank and Food Pantry (Ellensburg);
  • $1.5 million Ellensburg Rodeo grandstands;
  • $1.3 million Moses Lake Business Incubator;
  • $3 million Thorp School District modernization;
  • $500,000 Odessa water supply mitigation;
  • $618,000 Port of Mattawa wastewater infrastructure;
  • $193,000 Royal City water efficiency improvements;
  • $155,000 Water main infrastructure extension project (George);
  • $621,000 Ephrata Rec Center upgrade;
  • $784,000 Upper Kittitas County Medic One – Station 99 (Cle Elum);
  • $258,000 Precision Agriculture and Broadband pilot project;
  • $300,000 fish passage Upper Naneum Creek Farm;
  • $50,000 Sprague School District;
  • $59,000 Wilbur youth recreation support facilities; and
  • significant funding for projects and maintenance at Central Washington University.

These are taxpayer dollars coming back to the district for community and local government projects where funding may be difficult to come by.

Transportation budget

I supported the $11.8 billion biennial transportation budget. It protects current projects and provides some funding for the maintenance and preservation needs of our transportation systems. It includes more than $1 billion in federal pandemic funds to go toward fish passage barrier removal and to backfill holes in the budget due to toll and fare reductions.

I was able to get a proviso in the budget related to House Bill 1198, my Community Airport Coordinating Commission legislation. The bill would have moved the deadlines of the commission to allow additional time to study the feasibility of constructing a new commercial airport or modifying an existing airport to reduce the pressure on Sea-Tac. Due to the pandemic, we have not been able to meet the timelines. While the bill stalled in the Senate, I was able to get it in the transportation budget.

Community Airport Revitalization Board (CARB) legislation passes!

It took five years, but we finally got the CARB loan program passed into law. It was the companion bill to my House Bill 1030 and Sen. Honeyford's Senate Bill 5031. The current loan program was only temporary and was funded through the state capital budget the past two years. However, now that the CARB bill has passed, it becomes permanent. This program will improve aviation infrastructure across Washington state.

Aviation and Aerospace Advisory Committee created

Late in the session, I introduced House Bill 1538 to create the Aviation and Aerospace Advisory Committee to strengthen the industry and help move the $108 billion a year industry forward in Washington state. Unfortunately, it was too late in the session to get a public hearing on the bill. However, the bill generated so much interest, I switched gears and was able to get the bill in the operating budget as a proviso. Great news for the industry! The committee will advise the director of the Department of Commerce and the secretary of the Washington State Department of Transportation on aviation and aerospace needs, as well as operating and capital budget requests.

After session ended this year, I have had the opportunity to fly a Piper Meridian. It is a single engine turbo prop with incredible performance. It is truly a treat to fly and teach in this incredible aircraft. Flying is still a big part of my DNA, and I do like getting in the air when I can, and that's why I enjoy working on aviation issues for our great state.

Rep. Dent with a Piper Meridian single engine turbo prop.

Noxious weed legislation becomes law

House Bill 1355, my legislation to get at the root of our noxious weed issues, was signed by the governor on Monday. The goal of this legislation is to protect Washington's agricultural lands, natural resources and salmon habitat from noxious weeds. The changes to our weed control boards, and putting state and local entities on the same page, should help us achieve that goal.

Capital gains tax signed into law

The governor has signed Senate Bill 5096, the capital gains income tax. The bill is unnecessary, unpopular, unreliable and likely unconstitutional. I also believe this is a step toward a state income tax. Multiple lawsuits are expected to challenge the measure. 

Cap and trade

The cap and trade legislation proposed by the governor, Senate Bill 5126, has been part of his climate change agenda for some time. Despite bipartisan opposition, the bill was passed in the last hours of the session.

The legislation would establish a cap-and-invest program (or cap-and-tax), for greenhouse gas emissions to be implemented by the Department of Ecology. Washington state already emits less than three-tenths of one percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

This is a regressive tax that will increase the cost of gas, food, goods, services, and heating on those who can least afford it, the low- and middle-income families. These people will pay the most, as well as those who commute long distances for work, groceries, school and medical care.

Low-carbon fuel standard

The new low-carbon fuel standard, House Bill 1091, authorizes the Department of Ecology to create a clean fuels program to reduce the carbon intensity of transportation fuels. It will increase the cost of gas and diesel, do little to improve air quality and will not generate any new revenue for transportation projects.

While we have adjourned, there is talk of a potential gas tax increase in the near future. Add that to the costs associated with cap-and-tax and a low-carbon fuel standard, and folks could end up paying up to 55 cents more for a gallon of gas. I am concerned about the impact this may have on many individuals, families, and small businesses.

I recently had the opportunity to discuss these environmental policies and some important wildfire legislation we passed, House Bill 1168, on TVW's The Impact. Click here to watch the interview.

Emergency powers reform shutdown

The Legislature adjourned without addressing one of the most pressing issues before us this session – emergency powers reform. As I mentioned in my last email update, our last ditch efforts to address emergency powers were turned down by the majority party.

One of the reasons they gave for voting down our efforts was that we were circumventing the rules or cutoff date to bring up the emergency powers bill we put forward. That would create an expectation that could be done for other legislation. However, the reality is, we have been pushing for emergency power reforms since last May and we had bills ready to go on the first day of session, including my House Bill 1060. If they truly wanted to address this issue, they had all session to do so, and work with us.

This is not, and should not, be a partisan issue. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle want a voice in representing their constituents and legislative districts.

Now that the Legislature has adjourned, we could be facing an interim of seven or eight months of one person controlling the entire state through another year of COVID protocols. Our state government was not intended to function this way. There MUST be checks and balances.

Blake decision

In February, the state Supreme Court ruled State v. Blake, Washington's law prohibiting the simple possession of drugs, is unconstitutional. The ruling meant thousands of convicted drug felons would be eligible for release into our communities.

An agreement on how to address the court's decision was reached late in the session. Senate Bill 5476 makes simple drug possession a misdemeanor and funds development of a statewide framework for treatment and recovery. Many of my colleagues and I would have liked to have seen the bill do much more. However, the other option was to do nothing, and that was unacceptable to me. This is a public safety issue for our communities and our streets, as well as for those stuck in the cycle of drug abuse.

See you in the 13th District

I am your state representative year-round, so please do not hesitate to contact me with any concerns, questions or issues you may be having related to state government. I have been vaccinated and look forward to sitting down and meeting with folks again. The favorite part of my job is the people – traveling the four counties and hearing from constituents. Your input and feedback helps me do my job.

I have listed some websites/news services I encourage you to follow during the interim to keep up on what is happening with our state government.

  • The Washington State Ledger: This is a legislative news aggregator administered by state House Republicans. It is a great source for information related to state government, public policy and the legislative process. It is updated frequently.
  • Capitol Buzz: This daily electronic clip service offers headlines and stories from media outlets throughout the state, including newspaper, radio, and television.
  • The Current: This an online legislative publication from the Washington House Republicans that is sent out every week during the legislative session and every month during the interim.

It is an honor to serve the great folks of the 13th Legislative District!

Sincerely,


Tom Dent

State Representative Tom Dent, 13th Legislative District
RepresentativeTomDent.com
437 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
tom.dent@leg.wa.gov
(360) 786-7932 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000