Soda pop tax surfaces as school reopening battle rages on

Here’s what’s happening on Day 43 of the 2021 session of the Washington Legislature.

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2021 Washington Legislature, Day 43 of 105

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

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OLYMPIA, Feb. 22, 2021 — Good Monday morning.

Today is the deadline to get policy bills with a price tag out of fiscal committees — budget and transportation, primarily — or they are done for the session.

For the rest of the week, it’s long days of virtual floor sessions in the House and Senate as lawmakers start passing their bills to the other chamber.

Meanwhile, is this going to be the week Gov. Jay Inslee finally reveals what Phase 3 of his reopening plan looks like and explains how counties can get there? As vaccinations rise and the infection rate falls, the timing seems ripe for an update.

Count on Inslee this week to keep pressing, practically demanding, public schools reopen. He’s been all but guaranteeing teachers and students will be fine as long as everyone follows safety protocols penned by his administration.

He may be right. Science and data collected thus far back his assertion, as my colleague Joseph Thompson reported recently. And the latest OSPI report shows about a third of Washington elementary students are in a classroom on any given day.

Parents and teachers wary of in-person learning are wondering what if he’s wrong.

“The fear of this is understandable. But it is not backed up by experience,” Inslee said at a Jan. 26 news conference. “Our experience shows we can operate a school safely. There’s no zero risk. Any time you step out of your living room there’s some risk.”

Not so fast

Inslee and lawmakers continue to negotiate a multi-part deal to bring agreement on a cap-and-invest program, clean fuel standard, multi-year transportation package and funding source for culverts.

Details of one component, a proposed bond measure to cover the roughly $3 billion tab for removing culverts with a bond, could emerge this week.

Inslee embraced the approach at a Friday news conference. “We found this is the most tenable path to move forward to get these jobs done,” he said.

But David Schumacher, the governor’s budget director, chimed up quickly with a clarification that seemingly contradicted his boss. There’s apprehension with putting the bond to a statewide vote, he said.

“This is still a legislative conversation that we haven’t bought off yet,” he said. “We’re very uncomfortable with the idea of, you know, holding hostage the culverts to a ballot measure. I think we’re going to have to see a lot more detail before we’re going to be okay with it.”

Meanwhile, the bill creating a cap-and-invest program is slated for a vote in the Senate Environment, Energy and Technology Committee on Thursday. There’s a new version of Senate Bill 5126. You can find more here.

Soda pop tax arrives

If you hurry, you can catch the 8 a.m. hearing on a proposed tax on sugar-sweetened beverages in the Senate Health and Long Term Care Committee.

Seattle has had such a tax since January 2018. It is 1.75 cents per fluid ounce and is charged to distributors of sugary drinks who in turn can pass it on to stores. Senate Bill 5371 would apply the same rate on “sweetened beverages” statewide starting Oct. 1. It would generate an estimated $359.3 million in the next biennium with 60% going to public health.

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