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Morning Wire: ARPA funds, recapping the 2021 session, Karen Besserman

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With help from Michael Goldberg

1. ICYMI: Recapping the 2021 Session with Legislative Democrats

In a virtual conversation hosted by the Wire last week, Sen. Manka Dhigra, Sen. Rebecca Saldaña, Rep. Marcus Riccelli and Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon recapped the 2021 legislative session and looked ahead to the work they will be focused on during the interim. To pass a transportation package, Saldaña says the challenge will be crafting a revenue option that ensures people pay their fair share regardless of their mode of transportation. Revenue options on the table include a gas tax tied to inflation, a road usage charge, and an air quality surcharge.

Fitzgibbon says Speaker Laurie Jinkins deserves a lot of credit for the successes of the session. One of the distinguishing aspects of her speakership is that before she was elected, she made it clear that she was going to trust committee chairs to lead in their policy areas. “I think that she operated as a problem solver for committee chairs in a way that was empowering. That was something that Frank [Chopp] did too, but I think it’s more central to Laurie’s style.”

2. How partisan was the 2021 session?  

Data from Senate Committee Services shows that of the 334 total bills passed in the 2021 session, 310 (92.81%) passed with at least one Republican vote. Of the 854 total bills passed last biennium (2019 & 2020 legislative sessions), 812 (95.08%) passed with at least one Republican vote. 381 total bills passed the House floor and 389 passed the Senate. 24 bills (7.1%) passed along party lines. 

Asked to reflect on the status of bipartisan collaboration in 2021, Republican Sen. Ann Rivers said the bipartisan deals that were struck were at times undone after passing their chamber of origin. Beyond the number of party line votes, House Republican leader Rep. J.T. Wilcox said the degree of partisanship can be observed in the bill’s “distance away from the center.” Leading Democrats have acknowledged that policies like the Climate Commitment Act would be politically unfeasible if not for the arrival of more progressive Senators. 

3. Treasury releases guidelines to state and local governments for how they can use ARPA funds

The US Treasury Department released guidelines yesterday to state and local governments for how they can use funds provided by the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Treasury also launched an online portal that these governments may use to request their allocation. Local governments will receive funds in two tranches, with 50% provided beginning in May 2021 and the balance delivered approximately 12 months later. 

Since the unemployment rate in Washington is not two percent higher than it was in February 2020, it will likely be among the states to receive funds in two equal tranches rather than in a single payment. Washington is slated to receive $4.427 billion in ARPA funds. King County, the largest in the state, will receive $437.57 million and Pierce County will receive the next most at $175.78 million. The City of Seattle is expected to receive $232 million. State buget experts at the Pew Charitable Trusts say policymakers should use tools like multi-year revenue, expenditure forecasts and budget stress tests to avoid deficits down the road. 

4. Pierce County Democrats threaten special session over reopening plan

After Governor Inslee announced a two week “pause” of the Healthy Washington Roadmap to Recovery last week, a bipartisan group of state legislators sent him a letter threatening to ask legislative leadership to call a special session if he did not “re-examine” the plan. “Your May 4 decision to disregard the Roadmap to Recovery for an additional two weeks when Cowlitz, Pierce and Walla Walla Counties were not provided that same consideration damages both our confidence and or communities,” reads the letter, which was signed by eight Democrats and four Republicans. 

The legislators take umbrage with the fact that eight other counties now have case rates that would have required them to regress to phase two. Pierce County previously regressed to Phase 2 because it did not meet the metrics established by the plan. In a statement, Inslee stood by his decision, citing Pierce County’s “extremely high rate of infection”  and hospitalizations. House Republican leader J.T. Wilcox pointed out that every House Democrat – including those representing Pierce County – voted against reforming the governor’s emergency powers this session.

5. Karen Besserman, champion of women in politics, passes away 

Karen Besserman and I met about this time of year back in 2000. We were working on a campaign together in one of those dysfunctional times that all campaigns go through. She navigated that period, as she did the following 20 years since, with grace and a commitment to building up people and institutions, even when sometimes politics can drag us all through the mud. 

Karen passed away last week after a storied career uplifting women in politics. Recently, she had led and co-founded Emerge Washington, an effort focused on empowering more women in policy and politics. Besserman trained more than 150 women to run for office, with 36 Emerge alums currently serving in elected office across the state and in Congress. In a statement to the Wire, Tina Podlodowski, Chair of the Washington State Democratic Party, said Besserman’s legacy is all around us. 

“Her imprint can be seen so strongly in the class of progressive women elected to the legislature in 2018 and 2020, who are now stepping up into leadership roles and making such a difference in our politics and our policy. Karen was a friend, and we shared the values and ‘mission’ of women in public office. We talked, laughed, schemed, plotted, encouraged and generally made nuisances of ourselves getting great women to run. Her determination and commitment, plus that wicked sense of humor, will sorely be missed. She changed so much in a short period of time.”

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