Democrats repel GOP push to go bigger on pandemic aid plan

Here’s what’s happening on Day 24 of the 2021 session of the Washington Legislature.

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2021 Washington Legislature, Day 24 of 105

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

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OLYMPIA, Feb. 3, 2021 — A not-so-funny thing happened as a $2.2 billion federal aid package made its way through the state House this week. It got partisan. A weird kind of partisan in which Democrats sounded like Republicans and Republicans sounded like Democrats.

House Bill 1368 is the blueprint for spending those dollars to fight COVID, administer vaccines, help schools resume in-person learning and provide financial aid for renters, landlords, businesses, child care providers and families struggling to buy food and pay bills.

It passed on a 61-36 vote with just four Republicans joining Democrats to send it to the Senate. The Ways and Means Committee is expected to exec it, without changes, Thursday, with a floor vote Feb. 10.

House Republicans didn’t disagree with where the money is going. They wanted to spend more in most areas. A pandemic, they argued, is kind of an appropriate time for tapping the state’s nearly $2 billion Rainy Day Fund to boost assistance across the state.

Democrats said no. Not now. Spending state dollars will be done later as part of the regular budget process.

“This is not perfect. This is what we can do right now,” said Rep. Timm Ormsby, D-Spokane, the Democrats’ lead budget writer. “There is more to come.”

Rep. Drew Stokesbary, R-Auburn, the ranking GOP member on the House budget committee, didn’t hide his disappointment. “We could have done so much more good,” he said.

Meanwhile, in the other Washington, Congress is at work on another COVID relief package. Democrats are going large and Republicans are pushing back.

“The risk of doing too little is far greater than the risk of doing too much,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told colleagues this week.

Risky business

Democrats looking to tax billionaires got a warning from the Department of Revenue that the idea might run afoul of state law.

House Bill 1406 would impose a 1% tax on the “taxable worldwide wealth” of that select group of Washington residents with “taxable worldwide wealth” over $1 billion. If enacted, it could bring in $5 billion for the 2023-25 budget.

It’s a hugely popular idea, judging by the number of people wishing to testify in favor of it at a hearing Tuesday. Probably not one that reaches the governor’s desk this year. Especially after the DOR’s fiscal note came out with this caution:

“There is some litigation risk that the courts would invalidate the wealth tax on the grounds that it is a property tax that conflicts” with provisions of the state Constitution.

Another caution in the analysis: If billionaires move out of state, you could wind up with a whole lot less.

Hacked off

Just how well protected is data collected and held by state agencies? That’s a question Republican lawmakers want answered after the potential theft of the personal information of 1.4 million residents who filed unemployment claims last year.

Republican Rep. Matt Boehnke, a cybersecurity consultant from Kennewick, told reporters that the state needs to reassess if it needs certain information like a person’s full Social Security number and, if so, how long it is held by the state.

Republican Sen. Ann Rivers of La Center said lawmakers must provide the state’s chief information officer resources needed to defend against outside attacks. She also noted the state needs to upgrade old systems “that are just ripe for the picking.”

Lawmakers, she said, must seriously consider where best to allocate resources to make sure that “we protect our citizens’ data as if it were to be kept in Fort Knox rather than in Mayberry RFD.”

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