Senate Democrats go big with budget. Will House go bigger?

Here’s what’s happening on Day 75 of the 2021 session of the Washington Legislature.

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

2021 Washington Legislature, Day 75 of 105

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

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OLYMPIA, March 26, 2021 — It’s Friday. With one month left in session, we’ve got our first legislative budget to chew on. And there’s a lot to chew on.

Senate Democrats released a blueprint Thursday diagramming a whole lot of spending — $59.2 billion in the next two-year budget, plus another $7 billion received from the two most recent federal relief packages.

To do everything they wanted to do, they also swept in the Rainy Day Fund and penciled in cash from a capital gains tax.

The Senate budget proposal boosts funding of programs and services across state government. And it pours federal funds into the continuing response to the coronavirus pandemic and to revitalizing of the economy. It touches pretty much every segment of every sector.

“This is a bold and equitable budget that invests in the recovery that our state badly needs at this time,” said Democratic Sen. June Robinson of Everett, who is a vice chair of the Ways and Means Committee and sponsor of the tax bill.

For Republicans, it’s a case of good news and bad news.

“There are things to like about this budget, and Republicans have ideas for making it better,” said Sen. Lynda Wilson, the ranking Republican on the Senate budget committee. “But by linking it to an unnecessary, unconstitutional tax that was already rejected by Republicans, the Democrats have guaranteed the Senate budget will be purely partisan. That’s truly disappointing.”

House Democrats will trot out their proposed budget at 3 p.m. today. Expect an equally large outlay of cash in pretty much all the same places.

“We’re making some good investments to deal with COVID and promote recovery,” Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self, chair of the Democratic Caucus, said Thursday. They will be focused on “where people have been hit hardest and what they need to get back on their feet again.”

Too soon to party

Coronavirus is still here. Transmission is on the rise in some parts of the state. On Thursday, a top state health official urged against making travel plans for spring break, and Gov. Jay Inslee called on residents to recommit themselves to preventing spread of the potential deadly virus.

“We are still on the razor edge of this pandemic,” he said. “We don’t want to drop the baton right before the finish line.”

Bright lines

A bill automatically restoring voting rights to convicted felons when they get out of state prison is headed to Gov. Jay Inslee for signing. House Bill 1078 would change state law to allow felons to re-register as voters right away. Right now they must wait until they’re no longer under community supervision. Democrats used their majorities to pass it 57-41 in the House last month and 27-22 in the Senate on Wednesday.

“This bill is about restoring the right to vote,” said Democratic Sen. Patty Kuderer in the floor debate. “It is about establishing a clear bright line … because there are people eligible to vote that don’t know they are eligible to vote.”

Republicans saw a different bright line, described by Sen. Keith Wagoner as “people who have fully paid their debt to society and people who have not fully paid their debt to society.”

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