Sen. Hawkins answers FAQs from 2020

Do you expect major changes to the state budget due to lost revenues?
Not at this time, but changes in upcoming revenue forecasts could make balancing the budget more challenging. As a result of past increased spending and reduced revenue, state economists are forecasting a projected budget deficit of nearly $3 billion. This deficit is much less than what was previously expected, but it could grow larger if the state economy is impacted again by recent COVID restrictions. While the current projected deficit is certainly bad news, the $3 billion figure is actually based on a four-year budget projection, impacting a four-year budget equivalent of over $100 billion. By utilizing the state’s $2 billion Budget Stabilization Account – often referred to as the “rainy day fund” – legislators will have a much more realistic budget development process ahead of us. 
Are you concerned about tax increases in the coming year?
Yes, most definitely. As discussed in the prior answer about state revenues, if legislators utilize the state’s $2 billion Budget Stabilization Account – often referred to as the “rainy day fund” – and make modest changes in programs, I believe lawmakers can achieve a balanced budget without tax increases. However, you can expect other legislators throughout the state to use the revenue losses from the pandemic – even if not nearly as bad as once projected – to justify increased revenues. Legislators will probably authorize the use of the Budget Stabilization Account reserves with little disagreement. The big divide could be over whether to choose budget reductions or new taxes to make up the remaining difference. In past years, the capital gains income tax had been proposed along with a multitude of other tax increases. Some of those increases have been implemented but others have yet to advance. With the legislative makeup in Olympia essentially the same, with similar members in the House and Senate, as well as the same governor, you can expect some of the prior tax efforts to be reactivated and newer tax ideas to be introduced. Please also keep in mind that these are taxes the state has control over, not any federal taxes from Washington, D.C., or the local increases approved at the community level.
What can be done about the governor’s approach to COVID response?
Not much, until the Legislature convenes. The state constitution strictly specifies when the Washington Legislature convenes. Our state constitution does not provide for year-round lawmaking, so legislators convene every January for a portion of the year. Since the COVID outbreak first began as last year’s session was concluding, the governor has had 10 months of nearly total control of state operations. The constitution does allow for the governor to call a “special session,” but he was unwilling do so.  As you know, there are three branches of government (legislative, executive, and judicial). As the chief executive, the governor is responsible for administering the executive branch of government, including the Department of Health and other state agencies. He has also fully utilized his authority under the state’s Emergency Powers Act to issue repeating and recurring executive orders. With the legislative branch of government shut out from the process and the executive branch moving ahead on its own, there were court challenges in the judicial branch, but those were largely rejected. The state’s Emergency Powers Act, unfortunately, never anticipated a year-long pandemic. I have co-sponsored Senate Bill 5039 to update state emergency powers to require legislative involvement following a governor’s initial emergency orders. Please remember that any change to existing laws will require the governor’s approval in order to take effect.
Why was there a long gap in your email communications in 2020?
I greatly value my opportunity to communicate with you and share information. However, state ethics laws prohibited me (and my House seatmates) from distributing email newsletters or sending printed newsletters during this past year’s election cycle. Those restrictions took effect on May 11th at the beginning of the state’s candidate filing week and ended after the general election was officially certified on December 1st. While I was able to share important information about the COVID assistance in April and May, I couldn’t send another newsletter until my Dec. 2 email about my listening tour. This was a very frustrating time for us legislators and we inquired about whether we could still use our official resources to communicate with you throughout the COVID pandemic, but we were not allowed. Some senators were allowed to send information, if they were not up for re-election in 2020, but I was unable to do so, even though I was running unopposed. Fortunately, we will not have to deal with any of these restrictions for another four years. I look forward to actively communicating with you throughout my second term in the Washington State Senate.
What is being done about reopening schools?
The reopening of schools is largely being handled at the local level. While the governor did issue repeated executive orders about school closures in the early months of the pandemic, the state Department of Health and Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction have issued guidance to schools. The decisions about school instruction is largely the responsibility of the individual school districts. Washington state has 295 separate school districts and each is administered by a superintendent and governed by a locally elected school board. They receive funding from local, state, and federal sources to hire their district employees. Most school districts throughout the state are currently providing a mix of in-building and online instruction, so they are not technically “closed.” Unfortunately, there was some confusion about who could make decisions about in-building instruction with the governor, state superintendent, local health districts, and school boards seemingly pointing at each other. I strongly believe that decisions about schools should be the responsibility of locally elected school boards. Despite any past confusion – and absent any additional executive orders by the governor – instructional decisions are ultimately being made by local school districts in consultation with health officials. If you have thoughts or questions about the approach to school instruction in your community, please contact your local school superintendent or board.
Why have you not done more to encourage masks and vaccines?
First, thank you to our courageous health care providers, assisted living staff, and first responders whose service is greatly appreciated. Due to the email restrictions previously discussed, I have not had as many opportunities as I would have liked to share my opinions with you. However, when on local radio or during other interviews, I have encouraged people to be safe and healthy throughout this pandemic and have personally taken many steps to do so. While I strongly disagree with the governor’s approach to how he has handled COVID response (not answering requests from the Legislature and issuing broad executive orders impacting businesses and families), I strongly believe people should take responsible actions to protect themselves and their families from this highly contagious virus. My family has been isolated for a number of months inside our home for online school and remote work. Outdoor recreation, along with the occasional at-home exercises, have helped us some, but when I am outdoors with others around, I definitely mask up. I have tried plenty of mask styles in past months. My personal favorite is one designed by eqpd gear, in the Methow Valley portion of the 12th District. As for the COVID vaccine, I shared as much information as possible in last month’s COVID vaccine newsletter, which included a survey seeking opinions. That survey resulted in over 2,200 responses and 86 pages of comments, which I am still reviewing. Thank you to the many people who responded. I respect everyone’s choice about whether they want to be vaccinated. As for me, I am very eager to be vaccinated and have agreed to publicly do so whenever one becomes available to me.
 
Sen. Brad Hawkins - 12th Legislative District
senatorbradhawkins.org
360-786-7622 or Toll-free: 800-562-6000

 

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