Dear Friends and Neighbors,
We're in the homestretch of the 2021 legislative session. Lawmakers have been in virtual floor sessions throughout the day, often late into the evenings, and most weekends. During the past few days, the intensity has ramped up because we've been debating and voting on the state's three main spending plans: the operating, transportation, and capital budgets.
Now that these proposals have passed out of their respective chambers, negotiations will begin in earnest on the final versions. Leaders will go through the proposals line by line, and each chamber will get a last opportunity to debate and vote on them before the final gavel on Sunday, April 25.
The capital budget doesn't get as much attention as the operating or transportation spending plans, but it should. Also known as the construction or brick and mortar budget, it allocates funding for land acquisitions, parks, broadband, construction and repair of public buildings, and other long-term investments.
The House capital budget passed with unanimous support. As the ranking Republican on the House Capital Budget Committee, I can tell you that our primary objective this year was to bolster pandemic recovery efforts. This budget puts people before politics. It was a 100% bipartisan effort. The committee has produced a plan allocating $5.7 billion, $3.5 billion of which is from the sale of general obligation bonds.
Highlights include funding for mental health expansion efforts, schools, low-income housing, and state park improvements, among many others. Watch my recent legislative video on the capital budget by clicking here or below.
I'm thrilled to announce that with the help of my seatmate, Rep. Keith Goehner, we were able to ensure more than $45 million in local projects for the 12th District made it into the proposal, including:
- Seven Acres Foundation: $2.5 million
- Rocky Reach Dam Turbine Hub: $1.03 million
- Soap Lake Elementary Conversion to Early Learning Facility: $856,000
- Coulee City Medical Clinic: $846,000
- Leavenworth Ski Hill: $52,000
- Manson Bay Old Swim Hole: $630,000
- Okanogan County Agricultural Water Bank: $361,000
- Nason Ridge Community Forest Acquisition: $3 million
- Wenatchee Center for Technical Education and Innovation: $3.2 million
The majority party in the Washington State House of Representatives recently proposed and approved a massive $58 billion two-year operating budget, an increase of $6.4 billion over the previous biennium. This comes in the wake of the Senate's approval of a $59 billion spending plan, which resembles the governor's proposed operating budget from December, except that it spends even more.
Both versions contain several shared priorities, including investments in childcare, rental and landlord assistance, the expansion of broadband, and improvements to state-managed forestlands. Those are all good policy objectives.
However, I have two chief concerns, which were the impetus for my “no” vote on the House proposal: the unsustainability of the spending plan in future years, and its dependence on a capital gains income tax.
It's troubling state spending continues to climb so dramatically. The House proposal increases the operating budget by $6.6 billion, 12.8% over the current budget cycle. The enormity of the $58 billion plan, and its focus on expanding ongoing operations and programs instead of one-time expenses, means it likely will create a bow wave of obligations in the future.
And it's particularly distasteful proponents of the capital gains income tax have labeled it an “emergency” tax. Where's the emergency? Despite early predictions of a budget shortfall, state government has made it through the pandemic relatively unscathed. Budget writers had more than $4.3 billion in surplus state revenue to work with this year. Not only have tax collections rebounded to pre-COVID levels, its grown by 13.6%.
Learn about the state's revenue forecast by clicking here.
This long-sought-after shot at our state's constitution, which clearly prohibits a state income tax, comes at the end of a year where state government has more than enough money to fund its priorities and COVID relief efforts. Because of the unsustainability of both chambers' spending plans in future budget cycles, I fear the capital gains income tax will be the “foot in the door” to expanding an income tax to middle-class and working families.
The transportation budget pays for road maintenance—construction, maintenance, and repair, public transit, and other related investments. It's funded by fuel taxes, registration and license fees, fares, and tolls. Because of declining commuter and vehicle travel during the pandemic, transportation tax collection has taken a hit. However, federal aid of more than $1 billion dollars, from the American Rescue Plan and other incoming federal grants, has filled in many of the gaps.
The proposed 2021-23 House transportation budget totals more than $10.9 billion. House Bill 1135 passed on an 87-11 vote. Unlike the operating budget, I voted “yes” to this bare-bones spending plan that focuses primarily on preservation and maintenance efforts for roadways across the state. Federal money will help backfill services heavily affected by COVID-19 such as public transit, ferry operating needs, and fish passage barrier removals. Although this budget is not perfect, which is why we had a few “no” votes, it does reflect bipartisan collaboration.
Staying involved in the legislative process
Please continue reaching out to me with your comments, questions, and concerns. My email address is Mike.Steele@leg.wa.gov, and my district office number is (360) 786-7832.
I also encourage you to stay involved in the legislative process by following House Republicans on Twitter and Facebook, or visiting The Ledger. Finally, please bookmark my legislative website, where you can find my latest press releases, video updates, interviews, and more.
It's an honor to serve you!