Plan to get schools open and people back to work also doesn’t need more taxes
Less than one-third of the way through the 2021 legislative session, Senate Republicans have stepped forward with a 2021-23 budget proposal aimed at restarting schools and bringing jobs back, while saving money for lower-income families.
“Senate Republicans have been listening to the people, and the messages are clear. Kids need to be in school. People need jobs. People need relief. This budget responds to those needs in a reasonable and responsible way,” said Sen. Lynda Wilson, budget leader.
Wilson pointed out how the $55.5 billion plan covers a broad range of public concerns yet balances without more taxes, setting the bar high for upcoming negotiations toward a new state operating budget.
“People are being told there’s a budget deficit, and the solutions are a state income tax or a ‘wealth’ tax. The truth is, state revenue is still growing despite the pandemic. The outlook from the governor’s own budget office shows things are still on track to be in balance four years from now,” Wilson explained.
“Putting this budget on the table so early is about being transparent, and exposing the false claims about taxes. People can see for themselves just how many good things can be done within the level of revenue that’s already available.”
Wilson, R-Vancouver, said her decision to give school districts financial incentive to reopen was clinched by the recent tragic suicide of a young teen in her legislative district.
“It’s been 11 months since the governor shut down every public school in Washington, and today nearly 80 percent of students in Washington are still learning at home. For almost one entire year these students have had no contact with a teacher and no contact at school with friends or classmates,” she said.
“When school districts in counties that meet the governor’s health metrics refuse to get students back in class, despite what the public-health experts and the ‘science’ say, it’s not just a matter of being inequitable and denying children an education – it can literally kill our kids. We can’t afford to wait months and years for a broken system to fix itself. There has to be a better way, and that’s why school reopening is such a priority in our budget.”
The proposal also includes significant funding for behavioral health.
“There was a mental health crisis in this state before everyone was put in lockdown, isolating them from friends and family and taking away their livelihoods and sense of worth,” said Sen. Sharon Brown, assistant ranking Republican on the Senate budget committee, who worked with Wilson to craft the Republican proposal.
“Given the additional challenges we face with the pandemic, we must act now to address this crisis and provide Washingtonians with this support they so desperately need,” added Brown, R-Kennewick, who is also the deputy leader for the Senate Republican Caucus.
Highlights of the Senate Republican plan include:
- More than $1 billion aimed at encouraging school districts to get children back into classrooms, of which $200 million will go toward contact tracing, testing and other safety measures;
- $333 million in additional assistance for small employers;
- More support for behavioral health than has been proposed by the governor;
- $200 million to support efforts to expand broadband access;
- Eliminating the business-and-occupation (B&O) tax on manufacturing;
- Gradually shifting tax revenue from vehicle sales for use on transportation projects; and
- Full funding for improving forest health to reduce catastrophic wildfires.
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Wilson noted Washington families haven’t seen tax relief from the Legislature since Senate Republicans froze tuition, then led on passage of the nation’s first tuition cut for the 2015-17 biennium. The proposed 2021-23 Senate Republican budget would reduce the tax burden on working families by as much as $1,000 annually, starting with a Working Families Tax Credit of up to $700 per year.
“The people with the highest needs are also bearing the highest cost of the pandemic, when you consider not only school closures but access to childcare, and internet service, or behavioral-health services. Our budget recognizes that not everyone is able to work remotely from their home,” Wilson said.
“Since 2018 the people have seen more than a dozen tax increases, many falling on working- and middle-class families. I can’t think of a better time than now to reduce their tax burden,” she added.
Besides responding to the pandemic, Wilson said the Senate Republican approach makes critical investments in areas that were deserving of more support before the pandemic – like services for Washington’s most vulnerable residents, and seniors, and veterans. It also increases support for domestic-violence victims, and puts more money into public-safety areas that need attention.
One of the Legislature’s mandatory duties in odd-numbered years is to approve a new operating budget for the next fiscal biennium. Typically, proposals from the Senate and House of Representatives don’t emerge until after each year’s first quarterly revenue forecast is released, which will be in March.
“This gives our Democratic colleagues plenty of time to see how a budget can be reasonable and responsible without needing more taxes. Our approach is the right path for all of Washington.”