A bundle of billions and an imbalance of power

Here’s what’s happening on Day 61 of the 2021 session of the Washington Legislature.

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

2021 Washington Legislature, Day 61 of 105

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

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OLYMPIA, March 12, 2021 — Hello. It’s Friday, the sun is out, the state is reopening, and the president says not only will those $1,400 federal stimulus checks be arriving real soon but all of us can get in line for vaccination starting May 1.

What’s to complain about?

There’s a bundle of billions for the state tucked into the $1.9 trillion federal aid package that President Joe Biden signed Thursday. As I noted here, it will steer roughly $10 billion into the coffers of cities, counties, school districts and state government in Washington.

There’s going to be around $4.3 billion for the state to cover a myriad of COVID-related costs with, I understand, a deadline at the end of 2024 to spend it. Out of a different bucket, the state will get $1.9 billion for schools, $655 million for higher education, $635 million for child care and $13 million for Head Start programs.

“It is a lot of dollars but the need is great, as well. We have a lot of people suffering in this pandemic,” said Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self, D-Mukilteo.

What will lawmakers do with all that dough? Can they make those decisions and write budgets in the next 40 days? If not, you know what happens next. Yep. Special session.

Don’t be surprised. It took 50 days for lawmakers and Inslee to agree on how to allot the last batch of federal aid — and it was half as much.

GOP frustrations persist

At a Wednesday presser, Republican leaders fumed at Democrats’ continued unwillingness to consider bills to re-calibrate the balance of power between the executive and legislative branches in an emergency by lessening a governor’s ability to act unilaterally.

“I am quite concerned we are going to leave this regular session in exactly the same place we left the last one, with the government in the hands of just one person,” said House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox of Yelm. “That’s not the way we were designed to conduct government in the state of Washington.”

GOP leaders also would like the virtual session to end. The loss of in-person interaction can negatively impact the legislating process, they lamented.

“The lack of human contact and socialization empowers caucus group think and that is not a good thing,” Wilcox said. “I think it does not lead to balance and also it can lead even to caucuses becoming more extreme.”

Passing the baton

The House Finance Committee will hold a public hearing on the capital gains tax at 10 a.m. Monday.

Democratic Rep. Noel Frame of Seattle, the chair, said she’s “happy to grab the baton” from Democratic Sen. June Robinson of Everett — who steered it to a 25-24 vote in the Senate — and “excited to see it across the finish line” in the House.

It is a leaner version of the bill House Democrats proposed. It lacks the emergency clause House D’s wanted, as well. But Frame said she is “mindful” of what transpired in the Senate and does not anticipate any major reworking of provisions.

BTW, among the many folks hoping to testify at Monday’s hearing is Republican U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse of Sunnyside.

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