Legislators end session with record-level tax increases, spending

  • Wednesday, May 5, 2021 1:30am
  • News

This year’s 105-day regular session of the legislature officially ended Sunday, April 25, with adjournment coming after a final round of votes to adopt changes to key measures agreed to by legislative leaders, who’d been working behind closed doors to iron out differences between versions passed by each chamber.

Foremost among these is the 2021-23 state operating budget (SB 5092), a tax increase and spending plan of some $59 billion in state funds (a $7 billion increase over the current $52 billion state budget), plus $10.6 billion in federal COVID stimulus money given to the state by the federal government.

The controversial capital gains income tax bill (SB 5096) also made it through final passage on a tight 25-24 vote in the Senate. The Senate had initially refused to go along with a “stealth emergency clause” inserted by House Democrats that will prevent a referendum vote by the people on the measure, but Senate Democrats mustered enough votes to pass the bill anyway.

The bill imposes a seven percent tax on capital gains in excess of $250,000 beginning in 2022, but it is likely to face a court challenge on its constitutionality before then.

Gov. Jay Inslee scored big victories for his climate change agenda with the passage of cap-and-trade (SB 5126) and carbon fuel standards bills (HB 1091) this session. Both proposals had been before the legislature for several sessions but never made it through both chambers for final passage.

According to critics of these measures, they will increase fuel costs and gas prices for Washington consumers and businesses, while doing little to address climate change.

Led by majority Democrats, lawmakers also passed legislation to mandate “critical-race-theory” training for public educators and medical professionals; to restore immediate voting rights to felons; and to reduce the penalty for illegal drug possession from a felony to a simple misdemeanor (SB 5476).

State lawmakers worked at a steady pace this 105-day session, including holding numerous late-evening and weekend floor sessions, despite pandemic-related constraints that limited in-person contacts among members and the public.

Lawmakers took a total of 974 recorded roll calls, along with hundreds of voice votes and passed 341 bills. By comparison, they took 1,428 roll calls and passed 485 bills during the comparable 105-day 2019 session. The ten-year average for bills passed, according to statistical reports by the Legislative Information Center, is 405 bills in odd, budget-writing years, and 288 bills in even years. This year’s number of bills passed is about 60 bills below the average for 105-day sessions.

2020 Regular Session quick facts

• Bills/measures introduced: 1,108 (includes joint resolutions/memorials)

• Bills/measures passed by Legislature: 341

• Recorded roll calls on passage of bills/measures: 974 (484 in House; 490 in Senate)

• Legislators with no missed votes: 82 (56 House members; 26 senators)

• Legislators with 20 or more missed votes: 11 (4 House members; 7 senators)

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