The many failures of the just-ended Washington legislative session
(Note: This was a column that was scheduled to appear in the Spokesman-Review on Friday, March 18th. WPC withdrew the piece after an opinion editor required we add talking points from the Legislative majority. And this is not the first time a request such as this has been made. We stand by our research and work product. Just because the state legislature or any one lawmaker says something, does not make it true. It is not the responsibility of an opinion writer to make the opposite side’s argument.)
In the normal course of events, Washington lawmakers use a short legislative session to make small mid-term adjustments to the state’s current two-year budget or to tackle any pressing policy questions. This year, things were much different.
Don’t be fooled by optimistic press releases issued by the powers that be. We will feel the harmful consequences of what the Washington state legislature did these past 60 days for many years to come.
For example, the state has an estimated $11 billion tax surplus. Realizing they were swimming in cash, lawmakers went on another spending spree – increasing the state budget to $64 billion. This represents a nearly 9% spending hike. Coupled with the spending increases from last year, the amount of spending in our state has ballooned by more than 20% in just two years.
Since 2015, state spending has increased almost 70%. This is irresponsible. This is not sustainable. This is a failure. When the state faces the next recession, lawmakers will tell working families their tax bill is going up. They will plead poverty, even though it will be their own decisions that led to the problem.
With so much extra money, Olympia could have followed the lead of every other state and given taxpayers some broad-based relief. Instead, lawmakers only considered a stingy three-day sales tax holiday over Labor Day and giving out free parking at state parks.
When the final budget was passed, the majority party took even those cheap offers away. Lawmakers failed to provide working families any tax relief.
As the governor’s use of solo emergency power entered its third year, a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced three bills to bring the legislature back into the conversation. Legislative leadership killed all of them.
Jay Inslee will continue to rule alone on COVID, and any other topic that he deems an emergency.
No matter who is governor, the legislature should provide a reasonable check and balance. It has continually failed to do so.
Lawmakers could have helped the thousands of small businesses around the state still struggling from the COVID lockdowns and now, inflationary pressures.
Instead, it passed a bill to require salary ranges be listed on all job postings. The sponsor of that bill admitted she had “never run a small business,” but still thought it necessary to tell the small business how to hire staff. To comply, small business owners will now likely list an extraordinarily wide salary range, giving prospective employees little helpful information.
The majority also decided to pass a $17 billion transportation spending package and promised it would not raise gas taxes. This, too, was a failure.
The transportation package is directly funded by taxes on gasoline, amounting to a $5.4 billion tax increase over upcoming years. Lawmakers are using a technicality to try and mislead citizens into thinking they won’t have to pay.
When hundreds of thousands of Washingtonians sought to opt-out of the state’s troubled new long term care program, how did Olympia respond? By simply delaying implementation until 2023 –right after the next election. The timing is no coincidence.
Now, those who bought their own private plans will have to continue to pay, while others wait until next year to see their paychecks be reduced.
Following the COVID lockdowns, new test scores show 70% of students failed state math tests and 52% failed state English tests. Instead of directly helping students, the legislature decided to just pump another billion dollars into the existing system. We’re now spending more than $18,000 per student, per year – with few results to show for it.
To add insult to injury, lawmakers even introduced a bill, which thankfully didn’t pass, that would have reduced classroom instructional time by 20%.
And in the middle of the legislative session, we got a reminder of the failure of the legislature from the last session in 2021. A Douglas County judge struck down the legislature’s attempt to implement a new state income tax, starting with capital gains.
Proponents said they expected the decision. In other words, they knew they were passing an unconstitutional new tax, and decided to do it anyway.
Unfortunately, it seems Washington has one of the longest streaks of legislative failure in the country. Lawmakers will return next January to start again. Here’s hoping they bring better solutions to the table next time.