Still no pandemic relief -- but more tax proposals

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                                                                                Jan. 22, 2021

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

I wish I could report it took the Legislature just 10 days to pass a COVID-19 relief package, from the introduction of the bill to the final vote. The trouble is, such a report would be misleading because that scenario took place in March 2020, just as the spread of the virus was being labeled a “pandemic.”

What a contrast. This past session, Democrats and Republicans joined to quickly – in 10 days from start to finish – appropriate a quarter of a billion dollars toward responding to a virus that was barely understood and hadn't cost any jobs in our state. Now, even though so much more is known about COVID-19 and the damage it has caused across our state, it still took until day 10 of this year’s session just to get the first committee hearing on legislation to immediately move our state to Phase 2 of the governor’s latest restart scheme. SB 5114 is a good bill that should be passed immediately, but even it doesn’t qualify as a pandemic-relief package. There is so much more we ought to be doing – now.

If you have a question, problem or idea involving the Legislature or state government, feel free to reach out to me during the 2021 legislative session. My Olympia office phone number is 360-786-7620 and my email address is I look forward to hearing from you.

Here’s a commentary on some things that came to my attention in this second week.


Security… and silence

We’ll never know if the temporary metal fences and the heavy Washington State Patrol/National Guard presence surrounding the Capitol deserve credit for what was a quiet Inauguration Day on the campus. We do know taxpayers will pick up a tab of at least $1.5 million, just for the state’s portion of 10 days of the additional security. It makes no difference to me whether the National Guard troops are paid by the feds instead of the state, because those are taxpayer dollars as well.

The silence at the Capitol is not necessarily a good thing, and here’s why. Two years ago, hairstylists and salon owners and barbers swarmed the parking lots and grounds around the John A. Cherberg Building, which is basically the Senate office building, to protest against a bill that threatened their ability to work as independent contractors. The bill was up for a hearing that day before the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee, and as a member of that committee I am convinced the very public display convinced the committee chair to quietly kill the bill. This week an even larger number of people signed in regarding the public hearing on SB 5114, our straight-to-Phase-2 bill. But the fences meant people couldn’t even come and rally at the “people’s house,” even though they also can’t testify in person on the bill because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Let’s see how long the fences, with their chilling effect on any form of public display, continue to stand around the Capitol. And one last thing: After seeing the mayhem in downtown Seattle after it got dark on Inauguration Day, where was the real security issue?


What’s the holdup on pandemic relief?

Here’s another flashback to 2019 that seems very relevant. On April 26 that year, with the session scheduled to end April 28, a House committee had a public hearing on House Bill 2167. The committee voted immediately after the hearing to move the bill ahead, and the House majority passed it off the floor of the House later that same day. A Senate committee had a public hearing on HB 2167 the next day, voting immediately after the hearing to move the bill ahead. On April 28, our final day, the Senate majority passed it off the Senate floor and delivered it to the governor. So what bill was so important that it was rushed from the initial committee hearing to the governor’s desk in three days right before the session ended? HB 2167 was a brand new $339 million tax!

SB 5114, the bipartisan bill I'm co-sponsoring to safely reopen Washington by moving all regions to Phase 2 of the governor’s latest restart plan, had a committee hearing Wednesday morning. The majority Democrats could have had it on Governor Inslee’s desk by the time you read this – if the political will was there. I hope the chair of the State Government and Elections Committee moves SB 5114 ahead ASAP so the full Senate can vote; otherwise, the message to restaurant operators and other small employers is “we don’t trust you to act responsibly about the safety of your customers and staff.” I have yet to see anything resembling a broader package of pandemic relief.

I’ll end this comment with a message I received the other day from an elected official in our area.

“As a city councilman, I am watching our communities slowly die. Government officials are collecting a paycheck every month, uninterrupted. This is happening while restrictions are affecting the business owners, their employees and all others who depend on certain services. It is time to allow the “American citizens” to think for themselves. There is NO mental or moral superiority within the government and people know how to take care of themselves. Please, before we see desperate people do desperate things, get this state open. The elections are over and COVID has served its purpose politically, it’s time to move on.”


An 18-cent gas-tax hike?

Yes, you read that right. Plus a “carbon fee.” Plus a “diesel tax differential.” Plus a $10 hike in truck license fees, and passenger vehicle weight fees. A 50% increase in the cost of license plates for cars and motorcycles. And much, much more. Click here to see the whole list of “additional revenues” contained in the transportation package announced by the House Democrats this week.

I’ve heard the concerns from WSDOT about funding for maintenance and preservation of our state’s roads. I know the state needs to replace a lot of highway culverts to improve fish passage, as ordered by the U.S. Supreme Court. But what the House majority wants goes far beyond those two priorities. It’s amazing that they think all these new taxes and fees are a good idea while so many families and employers are struggling to recover from the pandemic.

The “Connecting Washington” package that was passed in 2015, when I was Senate Majority Leader, received big bipartisan support partly because it reflected input from all corners of the state, collected during a long string of public meetings. The House Democrats say their new package is based on 90 “listening sessions.” If any of those were in rural areas, I missed them. I haven’t seen the project list, but this sounds like another proposal that goes heavy on the I-5 corridor, like we saw in 2013 and just this past year.



A pandemic can't stop the state FFA officers from making their annual visit to this former state FFA officer. I’m proud to see three of the six hail from our 9th District! From left: Secretary Gunnar Aune, Colfax; Treasurer Alissa Whitaker, Moses Lake; Reporter Haley Gilman, Eastmont; President Cole Baerlocher, Colfax; Vice President Lauren Stubbs, LaCrosse; Sentinel Tysen White, Finley.


More pain and misery for the private sector

The state Economic and Revenue Forecast Council releases a state revenue collection report each month. The December report wasn’t good for the private sector, with 19,000 leisure and hospitality jobs lost in November and December – which happens to  coincide with the latest Inslee lockdown. The net loss across the private sector for those months was 5,900 jobs, and the state’s unemployment rate in December jumped to 7.1% (from 6.7%), which was the first increase in the rate since July. 

The state ended 2020 with 215,000 fewer jobs than at the end of 2019. More than 10 percent of that loss was in manufacturing. I agree with the governor that there’s a person behind each COVID statistic; I wonder if he recognizes there’s a person, and often a family, behind each of these lost jobs.     

The chart below shows Washington employment (and here's a link to the full report):

ERFC WA unemployment

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I welcome your comments about anything in this newsletter and questions about what I’m doing on your behalf in the state Senate. Please call, email or write using the contact information at the end of this report.

Click here to visit my legislative webpage!

Legislative E-mail:

Legislative Phone: (360) 786-7620

Toll-Free: 1 (800) 562-6000

 Olympia Address:

204 Legislative Building

P.O. Box 40409

Olympia WA 98504-0409