NO CAPTION NECESSARY: Logo for the Cornfield Report by Jerry Cornfield. 20200112

A Blake battle, a budget beef, and a new tax proposal arrives

It’s Day 94. Here’s what’s happening in the 2023 session of the Washington Legislature

2023 Washington Legislature, Day 94 of 105

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

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OLYMPIA, April 12, 2023 — It’s Wednesday. Found myself humming “All Night Long” early this morning. Real early.

House members worked up to and past midnight, plowing through a stack of bills culminating with a much-anticipated debate and vote on the Senate-crafted Blake bill.

It passed 54-41 around 1:30 a.m. What majority Democrats pushed through puts them at odds with House Republicans and Senate colleagues on the critical issue of the penalty for drug possession.

The House-passed version makes it a misdemeanor. The Senate bill made it a gross misdemeanor. Civic and law enforcement leaders say absent the threat of a tougher punishment, those they encounter on the street may choose arrest and brief stay in jail rather than one of the bill’s various pathways to treatment. As a result, the prevalence of open drug use in their communities won’t disappear, they say.

The House-passed version does say it will be a misdemeanor to possess and use illegal drugs “in a public place.” That verbiage looks to be Democrats’ reply to worried community leaders. And senators.

House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox isn’t buying it.

“The bill that once was the Blake Fix has become the Blake Fake,” he tweeted. “House D’s are poised to destroy the compromise that three caucuses support and pass a bill that is completely toothless in its approach to the most deadly drugs.”

Can you say conference committee? It may take one to sort things out.

OFM gets chirpy on road budget

Gov. Jay Inslee thinks transportation budgets proposed in the House and Senate make promises the state can’t keep, spend money that doesn’t exist and will reduce the presence of troopers on highways.

David Schumacher, the director of the Office of Financial Management, itemized those and other shortcomings in a three-page letter sent April 7 to Democrat and Republican lawmakers involved in crafting the plans.

“The House and Senate transportation budgets appear to fund many projects throughout the state. In reality, however, many of the projects are only partly funded or are aspirational,” he wrote. “The capital project lists look robust, but the practical constraints of delivering the projects and the unrealistic financial plan is a set-up for failure and disappointment.”

Schumacher also wrote the two budgets action on trooper staffing “diminish the ability of the Washington State Patrol to enforce roadway safety and respond to accidents that close roadways.” And he contends proposed workforce reductions in the Department of Licensing will lengthen wait times for customers.

Sen. Marko Liias, D-Everett, and Rep. Jake Fey, D-Tacoma, the respective chairs of the Senate and House transportation committees, didn’t get worked up about the letter. They’ve each chatted with Schumacher about it.

“We’ll take his comments seriously,” Fey said. “This is a process. He made his (budget) approach (in December). We’ve made ours.”

Liias acknowledged the question of how much the Department of Transportation can deliver is “definitely a question we want to pin down.”

On state patrol, he said, the department is understaffed. Money was in budget for vacancies and it “doesn’t make sense to fund those ghost positions.”

Plenty of conversations lie ahead.

Here Come The Taxes

A new tax bill formally arrived this morning.

Senate Bill 5770, with its 20 Democratic sponsors, is strikingly similar to one I wrote about earlier in session, House Bill 1670. That one got passed out of the House Finance Committee.

Both bills look to ditch the 1% cap on annual increases in property tax collections by cities, counties, special districts and the state. and replace it with a 3% maximum.

The Senate bill notes money generated from the state portion of any increase would go to public schools. That could be real dough for special education services and student transportation. Maybe even free meals for all students.

Sounds enticing. Maybe more than a statewide housing bond or hiking the real estate excise tax, both of which continue to be in the conversational mix as money-raising tools.

The last 11 days will be filled with false rumors and bad guesses on this topic.

Also, undoubtedly, time for a few bars of “All Night Long.”

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