Legislature adjourns the session following budget approvals

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April 29, 2021

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

The Legislature recently completed its hybrid session in Olympia on April 25 as scheduled. It consisted primarily of Zoom meetings and conference calls with some work completed in-person. It was a busy time for me as I continued as the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee’s ranking member. This session was particularly busy for education committee leaders due to the school issues surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. I worked on many COVID-related education issues, including a statewide focus as school employee vaccinations and learning recovery. I also sponsored a few individual bills and budget requests, many of which were approved. In the end, the Legislature approved all three budgets for the 2021-23 biennium and authorized many federal stimulus dollars. The operating budget ($59.2 billion), transportation budget ($11.8 billion), and capital budget ($6.3 billion) were finalized on the final days of session after much negotiation. I voted for the transportation budget and capital budget, but I voted against the final operating budget.

Capitol Dome and cherry blossoms

The state Capitol’s annual cherry blossoms signal springtime and usually the finalizing of the legislative session. The 105-day “hybrid” session – involving a mix of virtual meetings and in-person voting due to the ongoing COVID pandemic – will certainly be remembered for years to come. The session concluded April 25.

Operating budget ($59.2 billion for 2021-2023)

The operating budget funds the day-to-day operations of the state, including early learning, K-12 education, higher education, health and human services, criminal justice, natural resources, courts, and other areas. For the 2021-2023 biennium, the House and Senate majorities significantly increased the size of the operating budget to a record $59.2 billion. As with any budget or other large-scale legislation, there are always things to like and things not to like. However, I could not support the broad scope of spending in the final budget and voted against it. Despite the COVID pandemic, state revenues are still projected to be positive, with more dollars flowing into the state than what was projected earlier in the pandemic. Unfortunately, the final budget spends all of this revenue in the coming years and also fully exhausts the state’s $2 billion Budget Stabilization Account, also known as our rainy-day fund. In another unnecessary move, the Legislature approved a new tax on capital gains income to raise more revenue for expanded programs. I have major concerns about the sustainability of this budget. I have major concerns about what the state will do if future revenues decline. The 2021-23 operating budget of $59.2 billion was approved by the House 57 to 40 and in the Senate 27 to 22. I voted “no” in the Senate. For more information about the final operating budget, click here.

State operating budget 10-year growth chart

The Washington state operating budget has grown considerably in recent years. The 2013-15 budget, for example, authorized $33.9 billion in state spending. The budget approved on April 25 for the 2021-23 biennium is $59.2 billion, which represents an increase of nearly 75 percent over the 10-year period. I could not support this budget and have serious concerns about its sustainability in the years ahead.

2021-23 operating budget pie chart

The operating budget funds the day-to-day operations of the state, including K-12 education, higher education, human services, natural resources, and other programs. Nearly half of state expenditures are dedicated to K-12 education. Other expenditures include Medicaid, long-term care, and other programs.

Transportation budget ($11.8 billion for 2021-2023)

The transportation budget funds the construction and maintenance of the state transportation system, including the maintenance and preservation of roads, bridges, and ferries. This budget also funds the state agencies and commissions that serve our transportation system, including the Washington State Patrol, Department of Licensing, Department of Transportation, Washington Traffic Safety Commission, County Road Administration Board, Transportation Improvement Board, Transportation Commission, and Freight Mobility Strategic Investment Board. The budget also funds numerous previously approved road projects based on their construction schedules. Due to the lack of driving during the COVID pandemic, much of the gas tax and other revenues that the transportation budget depends upon was significantly less than in past years. Additionally, a Supreme Court case involving fish-blocking transportation culverts has forced the state to invest billions of dollars to fix them. The combined loss in transportation revenues as well as the increase in fish passage restoration projects has created a strain on the overall system. This resulted in a lean 2021-23 transportation budget with few new additions. I am pleased that a fast-charging and hydrogen fueling station in the Wenatchee Valley was funded based upon an amendment I sponsored in the Senate Transportation Committee. The big news of the session on transportation is that none of the gas tax/new revenue investment proposals passed. However, there is ongoing speculation that Gov. Inslee could call the Legislature back into a special session in the fall in an attempt to advance new revenue ideas for additional transportation projects. Without any expanded proposals, the renewed 2021-23 transportation budget of $11.8 billion was approved by the House 90 to 6 and in the Senate 41 to 8. I voted “yes” in the Senate. For more information about the final transportation budget, click here.

Hydrogen fueling station

The final transportation budget included funding for a fast-charging and hydrogen fueling station in the Wenatchee Valley. This will allow zero-emission vehicles, either battery electrics or fuel cell vehicles, to refuel in our area and support tourists visiting our region. It could enable hydrogen fueled short-haul agriculture in NCW using semi-trucks like these manufactured in Washington or fuel cell transit buses.

Capital budget ($6.3 billion for 2021-2023)

The state capital budget funds the construction and maintenance of state buildings, public school matching grants, higher education facilities, public lands, parks, and other assets.  In recent years, the 12th District team has been able to generate big wins for our region through this budget, including the replacement of key infrastructure following tragic wildfires, the expansion of outdoor recreation opportunities that improve our economy and quality of life, and enhancements to key community response systems. Our legislative team, with the help of Representative Steele, who helps negotiate the capital budget, has been able to successfully secure many of our regional priorities, including the Wells Hall replacement for Wenatchee Valley College, Chelan County Emergency Operations Center, Twisp Civic Building, Winthrop Library, Wenatchee Valley Museum and Cultural Center, Wenatchi Landing sewer extension, Saddle Rock soil remediation, and a variety of recreation and park facility improvements. The 2021-23 capital budget was a success for our district as well, most notably including the Nason Ridge Community Forest, Chelan Airport water extension, small-school modernization grants, Wenatchee City Pool renovation, Winthrop Ice Rink support, Leavenworth Ski Hill restrooms, Soap Lake City Hall repairs, North Central Washington Libraries funding, and other facility or infrastructure investments. For a full list of 12th District funding, click here. The 2021-23 capital budget of $6.3 billion was approved by the House 98 to 0 and in the Senate 49 to 0. I voted “yes” in the Senate. For more information about the final capital budget, click here.

Chelan Complex fire

I was pleased to support House Bill 1168 to make significant new investments into forest health and wildfire response. My Senate Bill 5158 was also approved to implement key recommendations related to electric utilities and wildfire reduction.

Other major legislation approved

  • Forest Health and Wildfire Response (HB 1168) – This bill directs the Department of Natural Resources to implement a variety of forest health, wildfire preparedness, and firefighting efforts and includes a legislative goal of funding $500 million more to those efforts over the next several years. Summary
  • Climate Cap and Trade (SB 5126) – This bill establishes a “cap and invest” program for greenhouse gas emissions to be implemented by the Department of Ecology. Companies will purchase emissions allowances or permits. Summary
  • Low-Carbon Fuel Standard (HB 1091) – This bill creates a new low-carbon fuel standard mandate in an effort to reduce statewide greenhouse gases. Nonpartisan committee staff estimated that HB 1091 would have an additional impact of $11 billion to $14 billion on consumers over the next 16 years. Summary
  • Addressing State v. Blake (SB 5476) – This bill reinstates criminal penalties for drug possession. Instead of a felony, as they were previously, these crimes will now be treated as a misdemeanor. The bill responds to a ruling in late February by the state Supreme Court in the State v. Blake case when it determined that the state law prohibiting simple drug possession was unconstitutional. Summary
  • Law Enforcement ReformsHB 1054 bans law enforcement from using chokeholds, neck restraints, no-knock warrants and some military gear. HB 1267 restricts use of force by police officers. HB 1310 changes the standard for use of deadly force. SB 5051 deals with state oversight and accountability of law enforcement officers. SB 5066 pertains to duty to intervene.
  • Capital Gains Income Tax (SB 5096) – This bill creates a 7% income tax on capital gains income exceeding $250,000 from the sale of long-term assets. The bill goes into effect immediately, but the tax begins on January 1, 2022. Summary
  • Retroactivity on Agricultural Wages (SB 5172) – This bill mandates that all agricultural workers will start receiving overtime pay in 2022 and have a 40-hour workweek by early 2024. It provides protection from retroactive overtime claims. The bill is in response to a state Supreme Court ruling last fall that declared current state law exempting agricultural workers from overtime pay, as applied to dairy workers, is unconstitutional under the Washington State Constitution. Summary
Apples and tractor

In response to a recent State Supreme Court decision related to agricultural wages and overtime, the Legislature approved SB 5172 to phase in a modest overtime system and provide protections against retroactive agricultural overtime claims.

Update on legislation I sponsored

  • Hydrogen Vehicles SB 5000 establishes an eight-year statewide pilot project for sales tax incentives on hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles similar to what the state has long provided to battery electric vehicles.
  • Utility Wildfires SB 5158 directs state Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz to implement recommendations made last year by the Electric Utility Wildland Fire Prevention Task Force and establishes a process for ongoing communications.
  • Tow Truck Operators SB 5406 would help tow-truck operators gain payment for keeping public roadways safe if called out by the State Patrol or local law enforcement agencies. It was approved by the Senate and a House committee but did not receive a full House vote. (The bill is still eligible to pass next session).
Toyota Mirai

My SB 5000 promoting zero-emissions hydrogen fuel cell vehicles was approved by the Legislature this session. It aims to provide comparable incentives to hydrogen vehicles that our state has long provided to battery electric vehicles.

Methow Valley biochar project receives funding

I was proud to support a funding request this session with my 12th District House colleagues to fund the C6 Forest to Farm’s biochar demonstration project in the Methow Valley. C6, a federally recognized 501(c)3 nonprofit, is in the planning stages of a demonstration project to produce biochar to woody debris throughout North Central Washington. Biochar is a charcoal-like product produced through pyrolysis, a process that superheats biomass without burning. Our state must continue active forest health efforts to get in front of the growing costs of fighting wildfires. Producing biochar from excess forest waste can reduce risk of wildfire and improve soil in agricultural lands while sequestering carbon. This issue is something I have been discussing with local supporters during my 2019 and 2020 listening tours.


Biochar is a charcoal-like product produced through pyrolysis, a process that superheats biomass. A demonstration project in the Methow Valley is under development to produce biochar from excess forest waste and other woody debris to reduce our risk of wildfire and to improve soil in our agricultural lands.

Listen to my recent local radio interviews

Each week during the legislative session, I called our local radio stations to participate in live interviews about the latest happenings in the legislative session. If you'd like to hear my most recent interviews, click on these links for KPQKOHO, and KOZI. Earlier this week I provided a session recap interview on KPQ’s The Agenda show. Click here to listen.

Looking ahead to the months ahead

The state Legislature meets annually every January. With the three budgets approved for the 2021-2023 biennium, lawmakers would not normally convene again until the following year. However, there is widespread speculation that the governor could call a special session in the fall to finalize a new, 16-year transportation investment package. Until then, I plan to continue my commitment to ongoing communications with you through media interviews, regular email updates, and a printed newsletter. After resting up a bit from this long session, I hope to resume my visits to your communities, hopefully in person. Also, my staff and I will begin planning for my fifth annual Listening Tour. Before we know it, the fall special session or next year’s regular session will be upon us and I hope to be prepared to continue to deliver results for our region.

Thank you for the opportunity to serve as your state senator.



Brad Hawkins

State Senator Brad Hawkins
12th Legislative District
E-mail: brad.hawkins@leg.wa.gov 

Website: senatorbradhawkins.org

107 Newhouse Building - P.O. Box 40412 | Olympia, WA 98504-0412
(360) 786-7622 or Toll-free: (800) 562-6000