by TIMOTHY FAIRBANKS-CLOUSER, Herald Legislative Writer
| January 10, 2022 1:07 AM
Repairing holes in last year’s legislation and preventing future issues was atop legislators’ concerns during the annual Associated Press Legislative Preview on Thursday for the upcoming legislative session.
The legislature is operating on a higher budget than usual for a supplemental year due to federal aid allocated to states throughout the pandemic. Despite this, some legislators believe now is not the time to regress, but to double Washington’s efforts using the increased budget and federal assistance to rebuild and expand infrastructure.
Senate Minority Leader John Braun, R-Centralia, said the nearly $60 billion budget is very robust, but tax relief is a big deal. The state can better support the transportation industry by repealing current gas taxes rising because of inflation, he said.
The gas tax is as regressive as ever and will only further drive financial issues for some working-class families, said House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm. The state needs to meet the demands of rural and urban economies, which is possible by adequately allocating the budget and taxing more efficiently, he said.
There are several areas of life in which people need help. Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, D-Spokane, said he hopes the increased budget is utilized in affordable housing, child care, mental health and education.
Progress was made in the past two years with these programs and the state should expand by further investing, he said.
Braun said legislators need to stop adding more costs to buying or building a home. Increased fees and taxes slowly raise the price, which piles up over time, becoming overwhelming.
“We have to acknowledge, we have failed here,” he said. “We’re 250,000 homes short of what we need to house the population.”
House Speaker Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, said law enforcement expressed concerns about legislation passed during the last session, but some adjustments are likely to come to drive its effectiveness.
Numerous short statements were made in reaction to the events over the last few years. Wilcox said he talked to several members of law enforcement who were afraid to speak because of retaliation.
It’s important law enforcement organizations recognize where improvements are needed, he said.
Legislators decided to delay the WA Cares Fund premium assessment and are hoping to pass two bills early this session to make adjustments to the program. Jinkins said more research is needed into what would happen if people opt out of the program or move out of state.