Bright spots include funding for Frontier Park in Graham, Yelm senior center repairs and Prairie Line Trail
OLYMPIA – A new state income tax, an urban agenda that weakens law enforcement and puts public safety at risk, and the possibility of skyrocketing gas prices made the finish of the 2021 Legislative session a big disappointment, said Sen. Jim McCune, R-Graham.
“We’re going to be paying a high price for the decisions Olympia made this year,” McCune said. “Our colleagues in the majority party had the votes, and they ran the table. We wound up with a massive expansion of taxes and government authority, and legislation designed to force Seattle-style thinking on the entire state, on everything from school curriculums to public safety.
“Yet we did nothing to address the top issue for the people — bringing balance to the COVID restrictions that already have forced many businesses to close and have eliminated thousands of jobs for good. This is what happens when the Legislature fails to listen to the people.”
There were a few bright spots for the 2nd Legislative District, however. The capital budget provides money for facilities at Frontier Park in Graham, including $89,000 for repairs to the Goat Barn roof and $1.8 million for a horse arena cover. The budget also provides $36,000 for repairs to the Yelm senior center and $457,000 for phase 2 of the Yelm Prairie Line Regional Trail.
Lawmakers brought their 105-day legislative session to a close Sunday night, passing the biggest bills of the session in the final hours. McCune voted with Senate Republicans against the operating budget, the income tax, increases in cell phone taxes and recording fees, and two measures that could dramatically increase the cost of fuel if lawmakers return to Olympia to pass a transportation package. Democrats outnumbered Republicans, however, and the most controversial bills passed with a handful of votes.
McCune, finishing his first session in the Senate following eight years on the Pierce County Council, said the session ought to leave Washington feeling uneasy. The public was excluded from the session in the traditional sense, as COVID restrictions forced most business to be conducted virtually, and visitors were kept from the Capitol. The disconnect with the public was reflected in much of the legislation that was passed, he said.
Despite federal stimulus funds and a 13 percent increase in existing state tax collections, the $59.2 billion 2021-23 operating budget adopted by Democrats exceeds expected state tax receipts by nearly $3 billion. It diverts money from the state Rainy Day fund and is built on an unconstitutional income tax on capital gains that could easily be expanded to the middle class if it survives court challenges.
Steep new costs on gasoline and diesel fuel could be imposed by a pair of measures enacting cap-and-trade and low-carbon fuel standards programs. Implementation is contingent on passage of a transportation package and an additional gas tax in a likely special legislative session. The additional taxes on fuel could quickly rise to a total of more than $1 a gallon – under some scenarios, $2 or more. McCune said the increases not only would impose direct costs on working families, but also would have a ripple effect throughout the economy, driving up the cost of food, goods and services, and discouraging business investment in new jobs.
McCune said he was particularly disappointed with the year’s legislation on law enforcement and public safety. New rules increase officers’ personal liability in cases of allegations of excessive force, and the tone is enough to make people think twice about law enforcement careers, he said. Other measures weaken the criminal justice system. The majority’s solution to the state Supreme Court’s Blake decision, which tossed out drug statues, was particularly troubling, he said, because it downgraded possession of hard drugs such as cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine to a misdemeanor.
In remarks on the Senate floor, McCune said the Blake bill “will be an enabling bill, enabling much more drug use – and it is going to be a sad road for all of us.”