Rep. Drew Stokesbary: Washington’s House Republicans have a plan to fund priorities without service cuts or raising taxes
This past year has been truly unprecedented. Last February, while coronavirus was silently spreading, the economy was peaking, employment was strong and our state operating budget had a substantial surplus. By June, with the world locked down, we were facing a budget catastrophe.
Luckily, Washingtonians are resilient and segments of the economy recovered quickly. The state's budget has stabilized, but many families remain under enormous financial stress. Stunningly, Gov. Jay Inslee and the majority party are nonetheless pushing billions of dollars in tax increases that will hurt working families, including taxes on health insurance, cellphones and gasoline.
There is a better way. Washington's House Republicans released a budget last week that funds the state's needs without raising taxes or cutting vital services.
Most important, our budget delivers relief, not rhetoric, to working families. While politicians decry the tax burden on low-income families, the Legislature has yet to actually cut their taxes. Our plan implements the Working Families Tax Exemption, a sales tax refund program enacted 12 years ago but never funded, and exempts household necessities from the sales tax, like diapers and prepared food bought at grocery stores.
Working families worry about their kids, too. Extended school closures have stunted the cognitive and social development of a generation of students and exacerbated the opportunity gap between wealthy and poor children. Our budget compels schools to reopen according to the governor's own recommendations, offers resources to do so quickly and safely, and provides funding to remediate the learning loss many suffered in virtual environments.
Families depend on other state services too, and Republicans recognize the essential role government plays in protecting society's most vulnerable. Our plan triples the governor's proposed expansion of community-based mental-health treatment and increases compensation to Medicaid providers, nursing homes and caregivers for individuals with disabilities, so those depending on these services will receive the quality and accessible care they deserve.
Our budget also contains solutions to our state's most pressing problems. Chronic homelessness has exploded, yet the governor would continue spreading money on the same failing strategies. Instead, we propose sending $400 million per biennium directly to cities and counties so that they, not Olympia bureaucrats, can pursue the best solutions for their communities. In exchange, municipalities would agree to remove encampments near schools, parks and playgrounds, and refrain from opening supervised injection sites.
We'd fund the foundational public-health investments proposed by the governor, but without taxing health insurance plans like he recommended. We'd invest in a healthier environment by maximizing production of chinook salmon and other orca prey at state and tribal hatcheries, cleaning up hazardous waste sites across the state and adopting a plan to reduce wildfires through improved forest management. And we'd preserve post-pandemic jobs by temporarily reducing and deferring taxes for restaurants and other hard-hit businesses, and by cutting unemployment taxes, so employers aren't responsible for the state's fraudulent benefit payments to Nigerian scammers.
We can afford these record investments in the people of Washington through creative, common-sense budgeting, such as leveraging federal dollars and dedicated funds and recognizing reductions or delays already experienced by state agencies last year. We can also capture savings through smarter policymaking — like merging programs to create economies of scale, moving agencies with pricey office space in Seattle and Bellevue to lower-cost suburbs, and eliminating well-intentioned programs shown to have a negative cost-benefit ratio or zero percent chance of success.
Critics will wave their hands and insist this proposal cuts services that Washingtonians depend on. They're wrong. Because the public deserves more than talking points, we're releasing hundreds of pages of documentation describing every single savings item. Those critics should deal in facts, not fear, and explain which expenditures remain necessary. If we overlooked something, our proposal leaves a $750 million surplus to address it.
House Republicans are proud to offer a budget framework that invests in the people of Washington, not government bureaucracy or special interest groups. Whether it's working families, eager students, struggling small businesses or society's most vulnerable, this is a budget for everyone. It is possible to fund our shared priorities without cutting important services or raising taxes — a goal we should all share in these uncertain times.
As published in The Seattle Times