Last week, the governor made significant unilateral mandates that impact our communities throughout Washington state. The new restrictions did not include a relief plan for working families and small businesses, and ignored consequences that require real economic, social, and health solutions. On Friday, the governor identified approximately $135 million in federal COVID-19 funds he alone intends to spend. The funding is a start; unfortunately, no specific plan was provided and no special session was called.
According to the Washington State Hospitality Association, more than 100,000 hospitality workers could lose their jobs due to the governor’s recent mandates. Each one of those workers; real families with real stories, is in jeopardy of losing their livelihood one month before Christmas.
Our communities have already seen too many “out of business” signs, and increases in domestic violence, divorce, suicide and substance abuse. These complex issues, not mentioned by the governor at his press conferences, can’t be addressed by the governor in a vacuum. They need the attention of the entire Legislature.
The governor should call a special session and work with the Legislature on real solutions. The emergency powers under RCW 43.06 were never meant to be a long-term system of governance. Unfortunately, the governor appears unwilling to communicate, collaborate or cooperate with anyone outside of his “echo chamber.”
Acquiescing to a special session called by lawmakers is not “political surrender.” A special session is good governing and the governor should be able to work across the political spectrum on good solutions. As Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said when calling a special session, “extraordinary times call for extraordinary action.” A special session is the right thing to do to save countless families from falling into a poverty cycle and countless businesses from falling into economic ruin.
The Legislature is filled with 49 senators and 98 representatives from diverse backgrounds and communities. There is a wealth of knowledge and opportunity to fashion programs that will have the greatest impact. As the mayor pro-tem in Centralia, small business owner, attorney, husband and father, I have seen the negative impact of COVID-19 and the governor’s mandates. I have heard the stories from countless families and businesses throughout Southwest Washington. Elected legislators can provide so much value to a comprehensive COVID-19 response by sharing the voices from their districts.
The governor wrote a letter to Congress urging bipartisan leaders to work on another federal relief package despite his unwillingness to work with his own bipartisan legislative leaders on relief for families and businesses. Waiting on the distribution of an effective vaccine is not a plan. Waiting with hands out for the federal government to infuse the state with additional emergency money is not a plan. Together, let’s work on a Washington state plan to address our needs in our communities.
Although there was some positive revenue news last week from the Economic and Revenue Forecast Council (ERFC), the four-year budget forecast went from a $1.7 billion surplus in March to a shortfall of $2.5 billion. I fear the longer our state goes without a special session, the worse our situation becomes.
I do not believe the state can take a unilateral “wait and see” position or tax its way through a recovery next year. We need to get Washington working again, not take money away from already struggling families and businesses. Protecting the health of our citizens and the economic livelihood of our families are not mutually exclusive. Washington must incentivize economic growth, business investment and job creation by eliminating regulatory barriers, reducing tax burdens, and investing in workforce development.
Eight months have passed since the 2020 Legislative Session adjourned. Six months have passed since the governor disbanded the bipartisan Business Recovery Legislative Task Force. This monopolization of governance is dangerous.
We must bring together the best ideas and solutions from every corner of the state to work on economic, social and health issues. It is time for the governor or two-thirds of the Legislature to call a special session and work on balanced solutions; our families and businesses depend on it.
Peter Abbarno is a Centralia attorney, mayor pro-tem of the City of Centralia and state representative-elect for the 20th Legislative District.