Dear Friends and Neighbors,
It has been several weeks since the Legislature adjourned for the year. This was one of the most challenging sessions to date, especially when all of our work was conducted remotely. We lost the comradery of working face-to-face with each other, building relationships with our colleagues across the aisle, and hearing the voices of our constituents on the Capitol campus in Olympia.
We were successful in several areas – passing good policy, making policies better, or stopping bad policy altogether. Of course, there were some losses, and I will cover those below as I recap the 2021 session.
First, I wanted to say 'thank you' to everyone who attended our 16th District virtual town hall. I know we did not get to everyone's questions, but I would still like to hear from you and am happy to discuss any questions or concerns you may have. Please contact my office and schedule an appointment using the contact info below.
$39 million in capital budget funds allocated for 16th District community projects
The final 2021-23 capital budget appropriates $6.3 billion in funds for critical infrastructure improvements including schools, public buildings, low-income housing, water infrastructure, state parks, and several other important public works projects throughout the 16th District and Washington state. Approximately $39 million dollars were appropriated to community projects throughout our district. For a full list of projects and more information, click here and choose the 16th District from the drop-down option.
Three of my sponsored bills signed into law by Governor Jay Inslee
Three pieces of legislation I introduced during the 2021 session were successful in making it through the legislative process and were signed into law by the governor.
House Bill 1131 will grant the State Board of Education the authority to establish terms and conditions for allowing private schools to maintain approved status when unable to fulfill certain instructional days and hours due to an emergency. This bill went into effect immediately.
The Walla Walla Watershed Management Partnership was first established in law 12-years ago and is set to end on June 30, 2021. The water banking program is one of the statutory functions of the partnership and will expire at the same time. House Bill 1143 will allow water rights currently banked with the partnership to be transferred to the state's trust program for a period of up to two years without the typical extent and validity process required to join the program. Water rights transferred to the trust program will be protected from relinquishment during the next two years as a 30 year management plan is developed for the Walla Walla Basin. This bill went into effect immediately.
House Bill 1145 will allow for straw pulp to be used to satisfy the post-consumer recycled content requirement for single use carry out bags in current law. In 2020, the Legislature passed a plastic bag ban that requires single use carry out bags to be manufactured with a minimum of 40% post-consumer recycled content. This requirement, however, did not take into account the work Columbia Pulp is doing in Columbia County. The company uses wheat straw to produce pulp, which is then used to manufacture paper products, including take out bags. My bill allows straw pulp to satisfy the 40% requirement. This will support the straw pulp operations at Columbia Pulp by protecting and expanding the market for straw pulp, while securing jobs in the region. This bill will go into effect in July 2021.
Legislature approves $59 billion operating budget, relies on an income tax on capital gains
The 2021-23 operating budget increases spending to approximately $59 billion in state funds, an increase of $7 billion (or 13.6%) over the 2019-21 budget.
We could fund everything in this budget within existing tax revenue, yet the Legislature chose to impose an income tax on capital gains. It is also troubling that this budget diverts most of the rainy-day fund into a separate account to bypass the need for a 60% majority vote to use these funds.
The operating budget is the largest of the three state budgets. It funds the day-to-day operations of the state, and includes priorities such as investments in childcare, rental and landlord assistance, the expansion of broadband, funding pensions, replenishing the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund, and improvements to state-managed forestlands. Those are all good policy objectives.
However, I am disappointed with the outcome overall. We could have met our obligations and funded our priorities without raising taxes. For these reasons, I had to vote 'no' on this budget.
Despite our opposition, new taxes were imposed on the people of Washington. At a time when many Washingtonians are still struggling from the governor's restrictions, we don't need to burden them with additional taxes. State government has more than enough revenue to fund every item in the new operating budget without increasing taxes and still have a surplus.
The biggest addition is the income tax on capital gains. Voters have already said no to income tax 10 different times in our state history. The governor's original capital gains proposal was 9% on gains over $50,000. The version signed into law is 7% on gains over $250,000. Considering the original governor-proposed capital gains tax was far broader and a higher rate, I believe the ultimate goal behind this bill is to test the constitutionality of capital gains in the courts with an end goal of a more expanded tax.
During this historic session, the Legislature passed several bills aimed at greater police accountability. I agree that improvements can be made, and I fully support accountability, but several of these bills went the wrong direction. Instead of finding the proper balance, many of these bills have severely hampered law enforcement officers' ability to respond to emergency situations by eliminating important non-lethal tools.
The Legislature passed House Bills 1310, 1054, and 1267, and Senate Bill 5051, all of which will make it much harder for our peace officers to do their job, thereby decreasing public safety and putting our communities and citizens at greater risk.
Unchecked emergency powers
We have been fighting for emergency power reform since day one of the 2021 session. Even a few of our Democratic colleagues have expressed concern over the governor's unchecked emergency power during this pandemic. However, despite numerous attempts to give the Legislature a greater voice during emergency situations, all those efforts were rebuffed. As session ends, we are still under a state of emergency and still under the rule of the executive branch, with no checks or balances exercised by the Legislature. This is not how our state government was designed to operate.
Unfunded climate mandates
For years, the Legislature has tried to pass a low-carbon fuel standard. The proposal hadn't made it across the finish line until this session. This is a regressive tax that will hurt people in rural areas the most. It will have little to no effect on our environment. However, it creates more unnecessary bureaucracy and places additional costs accrued by businesses that is eventually passed onto consumers. The price of fuel will inevitably rise, hurting low-income and hard-working families.
The Legislature also passed a cap-and-trade tax. As we have seen with other tax proposals and increases in this state, voters have rejected carbon-pricing policies several times. Despite the bill's intentions, it would have very little reward. Washington state emits less than three-tenths of one percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. If we eliminated every car, truck, train, plane, and boat, the impacts to global greenhouse gas emissions wouldn't even be noticeable. This cap-and-tax plan will hurt the entire state economically with no significant environmental benefit.
Looking ahead into interim
With session now adjourned, I'm back in the 16th District for the interim. As I take this time to reconnect with our communities and work on policy for the 2022 session, I encourage you to reach out to me with your ideas, thoughts, questions, and concerns. You can do so by calling my office at (509) 593-4559 or sending an email to Skyler.Rude@leg.wa.gov.
Thank you for the honor of allowing me to serve you!