Gov. Jay Inslee (D) of Washington has announced a state budget proposal including a large amount of taxpayer dollars for programs to address racism and environmental issues, KEPR News reports.
A state equity office established by the legislature earlier this year will cost taxpayers $2.5 million. The equity office is expected to address systemic racism and discrimination, King 5 reports.
Another new budget allocation is for oversight of police and additional support for race and equity programs. An agency will be created to conduct investigations of claimed police use of excessive force, review racial disparities in contracts, and provide an equitable financial literacy program for people of color. This proposal will cost the state’s taxpayers $26 million.
Inslee’s budget also includes $12.6 million to implement a climate bill requiring the public to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Part of this budget will support the implementation of a program requiring industries to comply “voluntarily” with the state through the sales, tracking, and accounting of greenhouse gas credits. Inslee is proposing this in the wake of the state Supreme Court ruling industries that do not create their own emissions cannot be forced to comply with the state’s clean air rule, KEPR reports.
Taxpayer dollars will also be spent on capping carbon-dioxide emissions in the state. Inslee’s stated goal is to require new buildings to be zero-carbon-dioxide by 2030 and to eliminate all use of fossil fuels in existing buildings by 2050. Inslee plans to spend $100 million of taxpayer money on clean energy products and other clean energy programs.
“He also allocates $55 million to weatherize and support energy efficiency investments for 7,000 low-income homes; $66 million to retrofit more than 200 public buildings; and $20 million to shift from fossil fuels like gas to high-efficiency electric heat pumps and other electric equipment,” writes Rachel La Corte for AP.
“I don’t really think climate change should be a driver of our state budget,” Washington business owner Joe Peterson told Budget and Tax News. “The state government is already such a tangled web of power. What we really need is less government. We don’t need to have government run our lives.”
The only potential expense reductions in Inslee’s budget proposal include a wage freeze on state employees for two years and 24 days of furlough for most workers. Instead of cost control, the governor is proposing new taxes.
Inslee proposes adding a capital gains tax and a tax on insurance companies doing business in the state. Each participant in a health care plan would be assessed a monthly fee paid by their health insurance carrier, King 5 reports.
“Whether it’s a new tax or a new regulation, small businesses are disproportionately hurt and become less competitive, and the additional cost gets passed on to the consumer,” Peterson said.
“What I would really rather see is the government cutting back on expenses,” Peterson said.
The state should establish more responsibility and competition in all aspects of the government, says Peterson.
“I am a believer in competition,” Peterson said. “It’s proven to be a big advantage to my clients in the business world.”
The state government currently projects revenues to be $3.3 billion below pre-pandemic levels for the next three years, King 5 reports. The state Economic and Revenue Forecast Council reported a loss of 5,900 private-sector jobs in November and December of 2020.
The state’s unemployment rate jumped from 5.7 percent in November to 7.1 percent in December. Washington ended 2020 with 215,000 fewer jobs than at the end of 2019. More than 10 percent of that loss was in manufacturing.
The loss of private-sector jobs coincides with the latest Inslee lockdown, writes state Sen. Mark Schoesler (R) in his legislative commentary.
“I agree with the governor that there’s a person behind each COVID statistic; I wonder if he recognizes there’s a person, and often a family, behind each of these lost jobs,” Schoesler writes.