WAVotes NEWS: Legislative session adjourns after passage of largest spending plan in state history. Despite record surplus, updated budget offers no general tax relief.

Mar 11, 2022

The gavels in the state House and Senate came down around 11:35 p.m. last night, ending this year’s 60-day legislative session “Sine Die.” Most lawmakers were, for the first time this year, present on the floor of both chambers to take final votes and make the traditional “points of personal privilege” speeches to thank each other and legislative staff.

They also recognized and honored members who will not return to the legislature after their terms end this year. Among them is Senator Tim Sheldon (D-Mason County), the longest-serving member of the legislature. Sen. Sheldon first served in the House in 1990, and then moved to the Senate, where he has often voted with Republicans on key issues.

Senator Sheldon did vote with Democrats last night to approve the supplemental operating budget that added some $5 billion to the 2021-23 spending plan passed last year. The measure passed the Senate along strict partisan lines by a 29-19 vote on final passage. One Republican member was excused.

The final spending plan, which was released on Wednesday after closed-door negotiations between House and Senate Democrats, brings the two-year operating budget to $64.1 billion—the largest in state history.

Majority Democrats in both chambers put the spending plan together with little or no input from Republicans, relying on unprecedented increases in tax collections projected by the latest state economic forecasts and federal Covid relief moneys.

The forecasts predict a surplus of about $15 billion for the four-year budget period, which Republicans say should have been tapped to provide meaningful, general tax relief for Washingtonians struggling with historic inflation rates and escalating fuel prices. Bi-partisan proposals along those lines included a one percent reduction in the state sales tax, and a temporary sales tax exemption for items such as school supplies next Labor Day weekend. Neither of those proposals made the cut.

It includes a tax break for small businesses across the state, but the Democrats’ final plan provides no general tax relief for Washingtonians. Instead, the plan increases spending on a wide range of programs and provides sizeable pay raises for state workers.

Democrats also worked out the final details of their 16-year, $17 billion “Move Ahead Washington” transportation funding package. The original plan had included a 6-cent per gallon tax on fuel exports, but the provision was removed after substantial push-back from neighboring states.

The fuel exports tax accounted for about $2 billion in the plan, which is now to be covered in part by drawing additional money from the state general fund, and from the Public Works Trust Fund, which is intended to pay for infrastructure improvements and maintenance by local governments.

The final transportation funding bill, SB 5974, passed along mostly partisan lines in both the House (55-44) and the Senate (29-20).

Check in to WashingtonVotes.org to see how your legislators voted on these and other bills and look for our Missed Votes Report next week.

WashingtonVotes.org is a free service provided by Washington Policy Center and is the go-to tracking tool to keep up with all the action in Olympia, especially during this mostly virtual session. Please check in often and follow us on Facebook and Twitter at #waleg.