Operating budget, emergency powers and transportation tax packages

2021 legislative session • April 9, 2021

Washington State House Republicans

Dear Friend:

House Democrats passed their 2021-23 operating budget legislation on Saturday following a four-hour debate. House Republicans offered amendments and made great arguments against the proposal, but it passed on a partisan 57-41 vote. You can watch our debate highlights in this video

The majority party wants to spend $58.2 billion in state funds. This represents an increase of $6.6 billion – or 12.8% – over the current budget cycle. House Republicans believe this level of spending is unsustainable and sets our state up for problems. 

House Democrats also propose an income tax on capital gains and new $100 surcharge on recorded documents. House Republicans don't think the Legislature should raise taxes on anyone, especially as our economy attempts to recover. We showed how this could be done in our operation budget proposal back in February. And that was before the revenue forecast revealed more good news for budget writers. 

Finally, the majority party wants to move $1.8 billion from the Budget Stabilization Account (BSA) to a new account. Normally, appropriating funds from the BSA would require a supermajority vote, but state lawmakers can tap the fund this year with a simple majority vote due to low employment growth.

While they don't spend the money in this new account, the maneuver allows House Democrats to avoid a supermajority vote later when they decide to appropriate the funds. House Republicans believe this violates the spirit of the BSA, often referred to as the rainy-day fund. 

Emergency powers reform 

House Republicans continue to push for emergency powers reform. Rep. Drew MacEwen, sponsor of bipartisan House Bill 1557, explained the importance of this issue at our Republican media availability. While there is bipartisan support, unfortunately there are not enough Democrats willing to challenge the governor and restore a separation of powers. 

On Monday, the governor will announce if any counties will move back to Phase 2 in his recovery plan. Earlier today, he updated the criteria for county phases. In order to move back a phase, a county must now fail both metrics for case counts and hospitalizations. Before, a county only needed to fail one metric to move back a phase.

A move back to Phase 2 would be devastating to businesses and families. And their state lawmakers, despite being in a legislative session, will have little say. It will be the governor's judgement alone. This is not how our state should be governed.    

Transportation tax packages  

There continues to be rumblings of a "grand bargain" between Democrats on a transportation tax package and controversial parts of the governor's climate change agenda. While there were some developments this week, the picture is still not clear.

House Democrats unveiled their "Miles Ahead" package on March 31. While there is a one-pager on potential spending and a list of possible projects, they have not identified how it would be funded -- including how much the state gas tax would be increased.

Senate Democrats released their "Forward Washington" package yesterday. It has more details, including spending, revenue and bond bills. The proposal includes several new tax and fee increases, including a 9.8 cent state gas tax increase. The three measures will receive a public hearing in the Senate Transportation Committee on Monday.  

Despite bipartisan opposition, Senate Democrats passed controversial cap-and-tax legislation on a narrow 25-24 vote yesterday. House Republicans are united in opposition to this bill and, based on quotes in this article, it could face challenges in the House. I will keep you updated. 

What to expect next week 

State representatives just concluded five days of House floor action considering primarily Senate bills. We will be back tomorrow and Sunday is opposite house cutoff. The schedule shows possible House floor action for all seven days next week.

Another issue to keep an eye on is Senate Bill 5096 -- the income tax on capital gains. It still needs to be scheduled for executive action in the House Finance Committee before it advances to the House floor. House Republicans will fight it every step of the way. 

Please stay tuned and visit The Ledger to get up-to-date news on what's happening. 


Rep. J.T. Wilcox
House Republican Leader
(360) 786-7912