State Legislature adjourns 105-day session, OKs $59B budget
OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Washington lawmakers adjourned their legislative session Sunday after giving final approval to a two-year state budget, a new capital gains tax and a low-carbon fuel standard.
As was the case for the entirety of the 105-day session, just a handful of lawmakers were in the Senate and House for the last day, under remote rules established for the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Democratic leaders in each chamber noted the pandemic’s impact, not just on their workplace with a new focus on remote testimony and voting, but on the details within the spending plan.
“Today, we show this Legislature can work effectively for the people, even in the midst of an emergency,” said Democratic Sen. Christine Rolfes, the Senate’s chief budget writer.
The Senate passed the budget on a 27-22 vote shortly after it cleared the House on a 57-40 vote.
In the two-year budget that ends mid-2023, lawmakers used a total of $10.6 billion in federal COVID-19 funding — separate from the $59 billion in state spending — including most of the $4.25 billion in flexible federal funding that lawmakers have to use by the end of 2024. Lawmakers used all but $1.1 billion of that amount, putting $1 billion toward the transportation budget, $1.7 billion in the operating budget and $400 million in the state construction budget.
The largest chunk of federal stimulus spent in the budget is about $1.7 billion for school reopening and funds for schools to address learning loss by students over the past year. Another $1.1 billion will be allocated for vaccine deployment, recruitment of public health workers and other efforts related to the pandemic.
Other areas funded by the federal money include:
—$658 million to extend the state’s rental assistance program
—$528 million for child care grants and provider rates
—$340 million for grants to adults who have been impacted by COVID-19 but are unable to access other benefits due to their citizenship status
The budget also uses a mix of state and federal funding on areas ranging from behavior health services to bolstering the public health system and wildfire preparedness and prevention.
“With the Legislature’s work done, it is now time for everyone to carry our state and each other forward in our recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said in a written statement. “This legislative session has given us a strong roadmap for the next two years and beyond.”
Republicans said that while there were things they liked in the budget — including the funding of a tax credit for low-income workers and families — they opposed the inclusion of taxes, including a new capital gains tax that cleared the Legislature Sunday afternoon and is now headed to Inslee for his signature.
“This budget unnecessarily relies on new taxes,” said Republican Rep. Drew Stokesbary.
The 7% capital gains tax on the sale of stocks, bonds, and other high-end assets in excess of $250,000 for both individuals and couples would start in January 2022. The new tax is expected to bring in about $415 million in 2023, though it is certain to face an immediate court challenge by opponents, who argue it’s a tax on income that violates the the state constitution.
Another of the few remaining bills approved by the Legislature Sunday included a measure that would require fuel producers and importers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with gasoline and other transportation fuels. The Senate passed the measure on a 26-23 vote Sunday, followed by a 54-43 vote in the House. The bill directs the Department of Ecology to adopt a clean fuels program similar to ones in California and Oregon. It would require fuel producers to start reducing the carbon intensity in their products starting with 0.5% in 2023 and working up to 20% below 2017 levels by 2038.
Like a cap-and-trade measure that has already passed the Legislature, any implementation of the measure hinges on the passage of a transportation revenue package, which lawmakers have said would be taken up at a later date after the regular session has ended.