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Morning Wire: Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, Working Families Tax Credit, US Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers

Today is day 93 of the 105-day legislative session. For such an abnormal period of time, with most of the session activities conducted virtually, this has been a somewhat ambitious session for Democratic majorities. Recent long sessions have seen some significant progressive legislating, like the public option bill and the long term care trust in 2019. This is a shift from a previously divided legislature and even the recession-hardened legislatures of most of the Gregoire years. Prior to that, the Locke years were largely centrist, too.

I don’t think we have seen this much progressive legislating since the ’93-’94 session. We’ll see whether the 2022 midterms are as tough on Democrats as that 1994 session was. On the one hand, this is a much different state than it was in 1994. On the other hand, many of the traditional winds align against Democrats, particularly the first mid-term of a Democratic presidency. Moreover, the re-districting now underway will draw a 50-50 map with “no partisan advantage” in a state with 57% Democratic performance. That will likely make a number of districts much more competitive. 

With help from Michael Goldberg

1. Q&A: Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon’s game plan for passing clean fuel standard and cap-and-trade

Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon continues to doggedly work the low carbon fuel standard and cap-and-invest bills before the clock runs out. With no Republican support expected, Fitzgibbon told Reporter Michael Goldberg about the intra-caucus dynamics at play. On cap-and-invest, most of concern this year is coming from the progressive side of the caucus, who want more environmental justice provisions added. To address those concerns, Fitzgibbon says transportation dollars can be tailored to focus on investments that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, such as transit, bike pedestrian infrastructure, and air quality monitoring.

On the clean fuel standard, Fitzgibbon says the House will scrutinize some of the provisions adopted by Senate, such as limiting the implementation of the bill to 10% carbon intensity, and whether or not tying the program to the adoption of a $500 billion transportation package per biennium is the right approach. While Fitzgibbon thinks public opinion is at the root of progress on these policies, he says the shifting composition of the caucus cannot be overlooked: “Senator Nobles voted for it. Senator Takko would not have voted for it.”  

2. The Working Families Tax Credit: 2008 vs 2021 

In a near unanimous vote, the Senate voted Sunday to fund the Working Families Tax Credit. The version that now heads back to the House for concurrence would begin paying out benefits in 2023, sending $250 million to 420,000 taxpayers and $536 million in the following two-year budget cycle. After its creation in 2008, the credit has remained unfunded. Back in 2008, the proposal was expected to return about $60 million annually to lower income families.

The 2021 version, which was sponsored by Democratic Rep. My Linh Thai and Republican Rep. Drew Stokesbary, has become the leading bipartisan solution to offsetting Washington’s regressive sales tax. When the 2008 version was up for debate, Republicans said changing the tax code was already within the Democrats’ reach: “You have 63 votes” out of 98, said then House Minority Leader, Rep. Richard DeBolt. “Change [the tax structure] … This bill is a platitude.”

3.  One on One with Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers

Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers serves as Ranking Member on the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee. Energy and Commerce has the broadest jurisdiction in Congress and is especially relevant to health legislation. I recently interviewed McMorris Rodgers to hear about her committee work and the issues impacting her Eastern Washington district.

“We have 25% of the population living in rural areas but only 10% of the doctors practicing. In general, we’re anticipating a pretty large doctor shortage. We need more primary care and other doctors in general. Continuing to work on residencies is an area where there is a lot of common ground… also tele-mental health is an area where I think there is huge potential.”

4.  How the House and Senate broadband bills differ

Rep. Drew Hansen’s Public Broadband Act and Sen. Lisa Wellman’s bill both expand the authority of public entities to provide broadband services, though the former is less restricted. Wellman’s bill narrows the scope to areas which fall under the category of “unserved.” On the floor, Wellman said the Public Broadband Act was “constructed without input or even consultation with the strategic plan of the state broadband office.”

Some Senate Democrats raised the concern of appearing to sidestep the statewide broadband office established two years ago, which functions as the coordinating agency for broadband deployment. Hansen and Wellman both amended each other’s bills on the floor. Hansen’s amendment removes some of the language that limited the service areas PUDs and port districts would have been authorized to reach. Wellman’s amendment redefined the classification of “unserved” to match the language in her bill. They each head back to their chamber of origin for concurrence. 

5. Health care spending in budget proposals

With budget negotiations ongoing, reporter Sydney Kurle took a look into the budget notes and keyed in on some interesting health-related spending within the proposals. Both proposals include funding for behavioral health initiatives such as the Senate’s proposal to allocate $3 million in one-time funds to provide grants to tribes to prevent opioid use and expand treatment, and $10.47 million to fund six additional youth mobile crisis teams.

The Senate version also includes $300 million for the Washington Immigrant Relief Fund. The House’s version of the budget includes $2 million to the DOH to conduct a COVID education campaign on Spanish Public Radio and $4.8 million for quality assurance and care navigation for the Department of Corrections.

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