Rep. Joe Schmick: Despite record budget surplus, no good news for stressed taxpayers
You and I are spending more at the pump to fill up our tanks, more at the grocery store to put food on the table, and more for the daily necessities our families need.
Inflation is running at a 40-year high of around 7.6% costing the average household an additional $250 per month. This is before the increase in gas prices.
The average price of a gallon of gas a year ago in Washington state was around $3.20. Today, we're over $4.70 a gallon. For rural residents, commuters, families, and those who need to drive several miles for health care, groceries, and school, this increase is a noticeable burden to family budgets.
The Legislature had a significant opportunity this year to give immediate and impactful relief to citizens around the state. Why? Because our state is collecting more tax dollars than at any time in state history and has a nearly $15 billion budget surplus over the next four years!
Increasing property tax collections, federal stimulus money, and economic activity throughout most economic sectors statewide have all created an unprecedented state surplus.
To be clear, this is YOUR money! The taxpayers of this state are sending more to Olympia at a time when inflation and gas prices continue to skyrocket. Shouldn't the state give some back? If not now, with $15 billion in the bank, when?
Republicans in the House and Senate offered legislation this year to give meaningful tax relief. We had bills to reduce property taxes, the state sales tax, and business and occupation taxes for small businesses and those industries hurt the most due to the pandemic.
None of our solutions were adopted.
Instead, majority party budget writers in both the House and Senate excluded Republican solutions and spent just about all of it. That's right. In a supplemental budget year with a record budget surplus, lawmakers created more programs, increased spending – and even RAISED taxes and fees in their transportation budget – instead of giving any back to taxpayers.
The troubling part of this scenario is what comes next. As much as food and fuel costs have increased, it's going to get much worse.
In the agriculture communities around southeast Washington, the increase in diesel and fertilizer, as well as the transportation costs to get produce to markets, is really starting to kick in. The pre-harvest costs for the summer and fall crops will further raise the price of food. Add to that the continued global conflict in Ukraine and the Biden Administration's war on American energy and his refusal to tap into more abundant North American supplies, and we are entering unprecedented territory.
The Washington State Legislature can't predict global energy supplies, drastically impact commodity markets, or influence global events in Ukraine.
But what we can do – and what we should have done – is recognize that our people are struggling. Our individuals and families are working harder than ever and giving more than ever to Olympia. They deserve meaningful tax relief. The state can afford it and still take care of all its obligations.
It's entirely possible that this missed opportunity is noticed by taxpayers. Perhaps in 2023 a wiser, more in-tune Legislature will be more responsive to those footing the bill for state government.
(Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, is a member of the House Appropriations Committee.)