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Opinion >  Column

Chris Cargill: Washington legislative session results devastating and divisive

By Chris Cargill

Many Washington state lawmakers are spending this week loudly congratulating themselves. They’re in home districts attempting to convince voters they accomplished many great things this legislative session.

What they won’t tell you is that this legislative session was one of the most radical, divisive and controversial in state history. To paraphrase President Gerald Ford – our long nightmare is over, but another nightmare may be just beginning.

Legislators gave final approval to a 1,100-page budget this past weekend that increases state spending by more than 13%, in a year when many households lost income. Over the past three budget cycles, our state lawmakers have jacked up spending roughly 50% to more than $59 billion. In 2015-17 biennium, the state spent $38.2 billion. This increase in spending is unsustainable and sets the state up for future budget problems.

Lawmakers got the final budget proposal on Saturday and voted on it less than 30 hours later. Most lawmakers didn’t have time to read it.

As part of their spending plan, lawmakers raided the state’s rainy day fund – even though they had plenty of revenue from the hard-working people of Washington state and the federal government via COVID relief spending.

Lawmakers approved a new state income tax, starting with capital gains. The most troubling part? Legislators decided to throw on a clause that prevents citizens from voting on the issue via referendum.

“I find it extremely disappointing that we’ve now moved heaven and earth to make sure the residents of Washington state are not able to challenge this bill,” explained Sen. Mark Mullet, a Democrat from Issaquah, who voted no.

Citizens have voted down an income tax more than 10 times in our state. They’d likely do it again, which is why some legislators wanted to prevent them their chance to vote.

A lawsuit will be filed before the ink is even dry on this income tax proposal. The state constitution and Supreme Court precedent clearly say this kind of tax is unconstitutional.

Lawmakers also passed a cap-and-trade energy tax and a low-carbon fuel standard, which will increase the cost of a gallon of gasoline by 20 cents over the next 18 months. None of those funds – zero – will be used for roads.

In the meantime, you only have a few years left to purchase a gas-powered car or truck in Washington state. Lawmakers decided to ban the new sales of those vehicles by 2030.

The majority party did the work long-sought by the state’s hard-line teachers union – refusing to authorize the opening of new public charter schools. They also refused to allocate equal funding for current public charter school students. Many minority children attend the state’s public charter schools, including the three in Spokane, and this mean-spirited decision will hurt them most.

Legislators also passed the divisive and hateful critical race theory requirement for public schools, colleges and medical schools. Critical race trainings in some school districts require people to publicly profess their racial and sexual identities, and then be labeled as either “oppressors” or “oppressed.” These bills violate Washington’s Civil Rights Act, the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Washington state and U.S. Constitution.

One thing the legislature didn’t do was assert its authority and oversight responsibility regarding the governor’s emergency powers. Majority lawmakers let the governor have unchecked powers to shut down the state’s economy. It makes sense to provide the governor the ability to respond swiftly to an emergency for a limited period of time. More than a year of power to set state policies without the involvement of the people’s representatives, however, is not the way our government is supposed to work.

It appears remote testimony is here to stay, which is good for those of us in Eastern Washington. Lawmakers were able to adjust unemployment tax increases caused by the state-mandated shutdowns last year. Legislators also removed occupational license barriers that impacted many who have finished prison sentences and want to turn their lives around.

These were the few positives. But there is little else to applaud when it comes to the 2021 legislative session. For too many Washingtonians, the impact will be devastating and divisive for years to come.

Chris Cargill is the Eastern Washington director for Washington Policy Center, an independent research organization.

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