2023 legislative session is off to a fast start
Note: The following e-newsletter was sent to Sen. Wilson’s subscribers Jan. 19, 2023. To subscribe to Sen. Wilson’s e-newsletters, click here.
No more masks! Our 2023 legislative session started Jan. 9, and is scheduled to adjourn on or before April 23. In the picture above, taken Jan. 10, the Senate visited the House for a joint session. For the first time since I got here, we all were allowed on the floor at the same time.
National economic issues loom over session
The problem no one seems to be talking about — for now
if you’ve been buying eggs at the supermarket lately, you know inflation is skyrocketing. There are numerous indicators of recession, and here’s one we see in Olympia. Over the last 10 years, state tax collections have doubled and so has state spending. Every tax-collection forecast from our state economists has been bigger than the last. But the forecast for 2023-25 was nearly flat. That’s spooky.
The first several weeks of every session are when we debate issues of public policy — from Second Amendment rights to affordable housing, reining in state agencies and reducing homelessness. But the most important bill we pass is the one we pass last — our state operating budget.
For the last few years, the Washington Legislature has been spending as if good times last forever. Economists looked at tax collections last November and predicted we will have $66 billion for 2023-25. But the anemic growth from previous forecasts tells us the wind is shifting.
We’ll find out more about our slowing economy in March, when the next forecast is issued. If things go south in the middle of our session, our current arguments about policy will seem petty indeed.
Cloak of COVID is lifted, but problems remain
In this pic from 2021, we see the temporary fence that surrounded the Capitol and kept the people out of what we like to call “the people’s house.” COVID restrictions became an excuse to keep the public out of the process.
Today we’re all breathing a little freer. The governor officially ended our COVID emergency on Hallowwen, and for the first time since I got here, we all can be on the floor at the same time. Finally Washington’s 147 lawmakers can look each other in the eye, without masks to get in the way.
But what about the legislation we passed when the people weren’t here? This is the sixth session in a row that Democrats have controlled the House, the Senate and the governor’s mansion. When the public wasn’t here, I think our colleagues found it as easy to tune out their voices as it is to turn down the volume on your television. We saw a torrent of legislation I just don’t think would have passed in ordinary times.
Take our new state income tax, which for some people comes due and payable this year, and likely will be expanded to all of us if the state Supreme Court decides it is constitutional. The people have voted against this idea 11 times. I wish they could have been here to remind our colleagues of that. This period of public absence brought severe restrictions on law enforcement that have sent our state’s crime rate skyrocketing. Nor have we responded effectively to homelessness, fast-rising drug addiction, the regulations that are driving up the cost of new homes, and any number of social problems that remain top concerns for the people of our state.
Unfortunately, fixing the problems created over the last two years doesn’t seem to be on our colleagues’ agenda.
CRIME: We’ve gone so far in the wrong direction on crime and law enforcement over the last few years that it is hard to know where to begin – weaker sentences, programs that let convicted felons out of prison early, decriminalization of heroin and hard-drug possession, and hands-off policies toward homeless camps. But the worst of the worst was the anti-policing legislation of two years ago, promoted by urban activists who believe rogue cops are a bigger problem than people who break the law. Can you believe cops are now forbidden from chasing suspects who flee the scene of a crime?
We had high hopes that we would be able to fix that problem this year, with a bipartisan police-pursuit proposal. But an odd comment from the Democratic chair of the Senate Law and Justice Committee this week is causing jaws to hang open. She told reporters she would not consider pursuit bills originating in the Senate, explaining, “It is so politicized that I don’t believe the Legislature is the best body now to make changes on this.”
The Legislature isn’t the body to change the law? As if there’s some other body that does it.
GOVERNOR’S EMERGENCY POWERS: We’re getting the same sort of runaround on efforts to reform our emergency statutes, and give the people and the Legislature a voice when emergency declarations run too long. In our state, the laws let the governor decide when an emergency begins and ends, and he calls the shots in the meantime. I know many of you were frustrated by on-again, off-again business closures and arbitrary decisions during the nearly three years we were under control of the governor’s office. I am directly involved in this issue as ranking Republican member on the Senate State Government and Elections Committee, and many of us were hoping we could deal with this dispassionately when the emergency concluded. But its chair has told us he won’t consider our proposal, Senate Bill 5063, or anything else dealing with the subject. Stay tuned – we’re not letting this die.
HOMELESSNESS: One of the biggest proposals of the session is the governor’s $4 billion bond issue to build public housing for the homeless, our state’s special-needs population, and perhaps even the working poor. He’s says it’s finally time to clear out the homeless camps we see everywhere we look, and end the misery and squalor. Who can argue with that? The problem is that our friends think homelessness has more to do with high rents and capitalism than with untreated drug addiction and mental illness, and with policies that force our police to look the other way. Until we start enforcing rules again, we will never effectively address this problem. Meanwhile, state and county governments already spent $3 billion annually on what we might call a new homeless bureaucracy. We don’t have firm expectations of what these programs are supposed to accomplish – so the more we spend, the bigger the problem gets, and the answer is always to spend even more.
I have a proposal that would hold homeless service providers accountable, and allow us to ask – are they really doing the job? Senate Bill 5224 builds on a recent performance audit by the state auditor’s office, requiring performance standards for local homelessness programs that receive state money – and holding them accountable if they don’t meet them. When we already are spending billions, the question isn’t whether we are spending enough. It’s whether we are spending it wisely.
SO MUCH MORE: In coming newsletters, I’ll tell you about other bills I have introduced to improve the accountability of state government, increase affordable housing, enhance public safety, protect tow-truck operators and stranded motorists, and clean up our roadsides and natural environment. And we’ll be looking to add more teeth to the bill I helped shepherd through the process last year, to reduce catalytic converter theft. On a larger scale, we have big battles coming up on gun control, revisions to the Growth Management Act and yet more proposals for new taxes. In the meantime, if you want to know more, please take a moment to register for our online town hall meeting next week, and we’ll tell you what you want to know.
Any 3rd-grade artists in your household?
I am among the many lawmakers who have moved into temporary quarters at the Capitol, as we prepare for construction of a replacement office building. And the walls right now are bare. We’ve sent invitations to 3rd grade teachers throughout our district, asking for student submissions. We know we have many budding artists in our district. This isn’t a contest; I’ll post as many as I get – as long as they stick to our theme: “What’s great about my community.”
Nature scenes, landmarks – all are welcome. Feel free to send your child’s work straight to us — we’d love to post it. Artwork should be on 8.5 x 11 paper, and laminated if possible, and let’s keep this to third-graders, please. If you have a future Picasso in your home, we’d love to provide his or her first gallery showing. And watch future newsletters for pics – I think we’re all going to be impressed.
Telephone: (360) 786-7636
Mailing address: P.O. Box 40419 /Olympia, WA 98504
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