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Dear Friends and Neighbors,

The final gavel of the 2021 legislative session fell on Sunday, April 25. Now that the dust has begun to settle, I'd like to provide a short recap of the votes and decisions made during the last few days of the 105-day session.

Working Families Tax Credit

Funding the Working Families Tax Credit is a commonsense approach to helping those that need it the most. This family-friendly tax rebate was created in 2008, but for several years it has remained unfunded. At the start of the 2021 legislative session, Republicans made fully funding the Working Families Tax Credit a priority.

Originally included in the House Republican's version of the state's operating budget, House Bill 1297 became the bipartisan version of the program's funding plan. The bill was approved with a nearly unanimous vote in both the House and Senate in April, and signed into law by the governor just last week, on May 4.

Similar to the federal earned income credit, the Working Families Tax Credit gives rebates back to those who qualify. Starting in 2023, depending on income, qualifying individuals will receive up to $1,200—with the maximum remittance going to parents with three or more children. I'm thrilled to see this program finally get put to use.

2021-23 State Operating Budget

The largest operating budget in state history was introduced by the majority party on day 104 of the 105-day session, leaving little time for an adequate, meaningful review of the items it contains. The $59 billion two-year plan includes $7 billion in new spending, a 13.6% increase over the previous biennium.

As you can imagine in a budget of this size, the plan contains some good things including funding the Working Families Tax Credit noted above, the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund, and the Fair Start for Kids Act, among others. My objections to this spending plan have nothing to do with those good priorities. I voted no because this budget does two very unnecessary things: it increases taxes and moves money out of the rainy-day fund to a new account.

  • Depositing rainy-day funds into a reserve account makes it easier for the state to spend by permanently allowing the money to be allocated with a simple majority vote. The maneuver means lawmakers can now use rainy-day funds with none of the “encumberments” of the voter-approved 2007 budget stabilization account statute, which requires a three-fifths supermajority of the Legislature for any expenditures.
  • The capital gains income tax, Senate Bill 5096, imposes a 7% tax payment to the state for specific capital gains over $250,000. Not only is this tax increase unneeded, but it removes one of our state's distinct economic advantages: until now, residents were not forced to pay an income tax.

As I noted in a previous update, the overall financial picture for Washington state is extremely positive. There's no reason to leave our state vulnerable by raiding the rainy-day account or imposing new taxes when we have billions of extra income to tap for our state's priorities.

2021-23 Capital Budget

As the ranking Republican member on the House Capital Budget Committee, it was extremely gratifying to see House Bill 1080 unanimously approved before the close of the session. The final version of the 2021-23 capital budget provides $6.3 billion in critical infrastructure funding for towns, cities, and counties across Washington state. As a lead negotiator on the construction investment plan, I was able to help secure more than $58 million for capital projects for the 12th District. To see a complete list of all the projects click here; choose the “12th Legislative District,” and click “View Report.”

The Blake decision

Senate Bill 5476 addresses the state Supreme Court's Blake ruling, which struck down Washington's felony drug possession law. But the measure is just a temporary fix. For the next two years only, drug possession will be a misdemeanor. The criminal penalty provisions will expire on July 1, 2023, once again leaving Washington without a law against drug possession.

In both the Senate and House, most of the debate was focused on getting those suffering from drug addiction the help they need. While I agree expanded treatment options are a part of the solution, it needs to be balanced with criminal penalties. I voted yes to this temporary solution because it was better than the alternative, which would have allowed drug possession to remain legal. I hope that by the next legislative session in 2022, we can do a better job of bringing both sides of this important discussion together.

Reopen Washington | A Letter to the Governor

Since Governor Inslee first implemented his Healthy Washington: Roadmap to Recovery plan more than a year ago, legislators have expressed frustration with the unevenness of the plan. Those frustrations boiled over with the governor's recent announcement of a “pause” on his phased approach that left some counties stuck in Phase 2 with tighter COVID-19 restrictions.

Washington state health care providers have worked hard to achieve over 5 million doses of the vaccine, with a goal of 90,000 vaccinations a day. As infection and mortality rates continue to decrease, even our neighbors in California and Oregon state are poised to fully reopen their economies. In Washington, it's time to end the constant threat of counties being forced back into tighter restrictions.

That's why I signed on to a letter calling on the governor to implement a standard and uniform reopening plan for all counties in Washington state. Signed by both Democrat and Republican lawmakers in the House and Senate, the letter was delivered to Governor Inslee on Thursday, May 6. In it, we ask the governor to end his phased approach for counties—not simply pause it—and reopen Washington state for business by June 15.

Virtual Town Hall Meeting | Thursday, May 27 at 6 p.m.

Along with my seatmate, Rep. Keith Goehner, R-Dryden, we'll be hosting an end-of-session 12th District Virtual Town Hall on Thursday, May 27 at 6 p.m. We'll be discussing the debates and decisions that took place during the 2021 legislative session. Click here to register. If you have questions prior to the event, contact me. I'm happy to help.

Stay in Touch

Although the 2021 session has ended, I serve you year-round. Throughout the interim, I'll be sending updates and information on my work for the 12th District. I encourage you to reach out to me if you have questions or comments on state-government related issues.

It's an honor to serve you!

Sincerely,


Mike Steele

State Representative Mike Steele, 12th Legislative District
RepresentativeMikeSteele.com
122F Legislative Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
mike.steele@leg.wa.gov
360-786-7832 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000