3 smoldering questions from the ashes of the 2021 session

Here’s what’s happening after adjournment of the 2021 session of the Washington Legislature.

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2021 Washington Legislature, adjournment

Everett Herald political reporter Jerry Cornfield: jcornfield@heraldnet.com | @dospueblos

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OLYMPIA, April 26, 2021 — Happy Monday. It’s the morning after.

The 105-day virtual session came to a close Sunday as lawmakers completed the one task required of them — passing an operating budget. Partisan fires burned one last time as majority Democrats pushed their spending plan through both chambers with nary a vote from minority Republicans.

In the session’s aftermath, here are four smoldering questions:

Did Democrats go too far?

With commanding control of the House and Senate, Democrats muscled through far-reaching social, environmental, and tax policies, some of which — carbon pricing, low carbon fuel standard, capital gains tax — eluded them for years. In the final days, they bowled over Republicans, and, in some cases, their own members, on substantive legislation, seemingly determined to leave Olympia with no unfinished business. At times this occurred with only an apparition of transparency.

Many of their actions will take root as the 2022 election cycle gains steam, giving voters a chance to review their performance.

Democrats will count on them to appreciate the results: large budget investments to strengthen the social safety net, more-accessible child care and expanded access to treatment and recovery services. Republicans will focus on the new taxes and higher fees enacted to cover the spending, and they will warn of soaring gas prices triggered by the climate change policies. They will also hammer on the notion that when everything the Democrats did is added up, the state’s tax system is more regressive, not less, as the Democrats contend.

Whither the Grand Old Party?

Republicans didn’t get what they most wanted this session — a recalibration of the governor’s emergency powers. Nor could they get Democrats to engage in a serious conversation on a rebalancing power between the executive and legislative branches in an emergency like the ongoing pandemic.

They did influence the outcome of several pieces of legislation. On the Working Families Tax Credit, for example, Democrats seemed content early on to pay for it with proceeds of new taxes rather than the general fund. Republicans hit hard on the idea that if it is a priority, then it needs to be permanently fixed into the regular budget. That’s where it ended up.

What does Jay Inslee do now?

Questions about the governor’s future will be hard to quell following his successes this session. His to-do list is done. He got the cap-and-trade program and the bonus of a clean fuel standard he’s earnestly sought since taking office in 2013. And he got the tax on the wealthy he’s wanted for so long.

With no outstanding legislative goals of note, he’s going to be bored. Crafting a transportation package — which must be done by the end of 2022 for those climate change programs to start — isn’t going to get his heart pumping with much excitement. Will he finish his term or maybe exit after another session? Could he work from home while serving in President Joe Biden’s administration?

Pure speculation. We’ve got all interim to engage in it.

And now this

Friends, this is the last edition of the Cornfield Report for the session. Thanks to all of you for giving it a read.

What an experience these past months turned out be. One hundred and five days of policy debates, floor votes and press conferences conducted virtually and streamed live by the heroic crew at TVW.

Working at home turned out OK. Coffee, and an endless supply of munchies, were always close at hand. Count me among those wanting to get back into the Capitol next year, though. Not because I miss lawmakers and lobbyists. I missed the human interactions involved in legislating. Who doesn’t want to see students testifying in person on the value of naming a state dinosaur?

I suspect the coronavirus, and Democrats, will have a say in what happens. Until then, be safe, be smart and I look forward to dishing out more kernels in 2022.

To subscribe to the Cornfield Report, go to www.heraldnet.com/newsletters. | Previous Cornfield Reports here.


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