Awash in money, Democrats soon reveal how they’ll spend it

Here’s what’s happening on Day 38 of the 2022 session of the Washington Legislature.

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2022 Washington Legislature, Day 38 of 60

Everett Herald political reporter Jerry Cornfield: | @dospueblos

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OLYMPIA, Feb. 16 — Good afternoon. The sun is out, I hear, and budget writers are smiling, albeit nervously, I suspect.

A new revenue forecast issued this morning predicts tax collections for this budget will total $61.7 billion. That’s around $5 billion more than when lawmakers adopted the spending plan nine months ago.

There’s also around $7.5 billion in reserves, plus $1.3 billion in federal pandemic aid, to still divvy up.

Now the hard part. Democratic budget writers must keep their House and Senate caucus mates happy with the figures they scrawl into their supplemental spending proposals. With a strong economy, COVID-19 cases in retreat and mask mandates going away, resistance is necessary — but could be futile.

“I would caution my caucus to be cautious,” Democratic Sen. Christine Rolfes, chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, told reporters this morning.

Operating budgets are expected by Monday.

May the Force be with you

I set out this session to see how the dynamics within the Senate Democratic Caucus might change with the exit of unflinching moderate Steve Hobbs (he’s now secretary of state) and the entrance of steady liberal John Lovick.

Tuesday provided a barometer of how progressive and pragmatic forces are swaying the 28-member crew.

By day’s end, the caucus had killed Gov. Jay Inslee’s pet policy pursuit of punishing politicians for lying about election results. Democrats may have embraced the idea, but defending it on the campaign trail, and in court, didn’t seem practical.

It did modestly boost the Legislature’s ability to unilaterally end a state of emergency declared by a governor. The bill poses no threat to Inslee but gives the Ds a little street cred with an apparent willingness to stand up to him.

And the group muscled through an unfinished blueprint for raising and spending $17 billion on transportation-related stuff in the next 16 years. They did it without Republicans, a process Hobbs would have eschewed when he ran the transportation committee.

Looking ahead, the budget will be another measure of how this chorus stays in tune.

A passing grade

Cheryl Strange’s confirmation as secretary of the Department of Corrections on Tuesday provided Republicans a platform to vent old frustrations with the agency and new ones with her.

Sen. Keith Waggoner, of Sedro-Woolley, said she provided “generic answers” to his questions on closing units at the Monroe Correctional Complex in his district. He said he got a similar response to his offers to support restoring funds to the agency budget that the Legislature cut last session.

“I was optimistic when Ms Strange was appointed,” he said. Now he does not have “strong faith” in her dedication to improving communication and the situation in correctional facilities.

She was confirmed on a 29-19 vote.

Strong words

Snohomish County Prosecutor Adam Cornell created a brief stir this morning while testifying in support of Senate Bill 5078, which would ban the sale of high-capacity firearm magazines.

“It would be a profound act of political cowardice for the House to decline to give this bill an up-and-down vote,” Cornell said.

Democratic Rep. Drew Hansen, chair of the House Civil Rights and Judiciary Committee, cautioned him about impugning motives. Republicans wanted to know how Cornell, a Democrat, handled sentences for those who commit firearm-related crimes.

The bill passed the Senate last week.

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