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From the capitol to the campaign: What the 2022 legislative session could mean for Washington state elections

From lawmaking to campaigning in the blink of an eye ⁠— that’s what Washington state legislators have done after adjourning their 60-day session last week. All state House seats and about half of the Senate positions are on the ballot later this year.

So, what did state lawmakers accomplish during the 2022 session. And what will they be touting on the campaign trail?

Majority Democrats were ambitious walking into this short session, the core goal of which is to adopt a supplemental budget. And boy, did they craft a supplemental budget.

In fact, as KUOW's Olympia Correspondent Austin Jenkins explains, they effectively rewrote the state budget approved during the 2021 session; they beefed up the $64.1 billion budget by about $5 billion more in state spending. That's an unprecedented increase for a supplemental budget year.

Where's the extra money coming from? Basically, Washington state is in strong fiscal shape with more money available to spend than previously expected. Jenkins says Democrats felt they were under a mandate to be ambitious as the state recovers from the dramatic economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

To that end, they included more money for things like more school counselors and nurses, pay raises for state employees, increased rates for child care providers and rental assistance for people facing eviction.

They did not include: a proposed sales tax holiday over Labor Day weekend; a proposal to waive entrance fees to state lands and fairs for a year; or, much to the chagrin of minority Republicans, across-the-board tax breaks.

Cue the campaign ads.


Even though there's an election to think about as voters deal with inflation and rising gas prices, Democrats were adamant about putting more money into state services than into taxpayers' pockets. They're likely to tout the services, as mentioned above, to show voters how exactly they're putting state dollars to work.

Those priorities are also issues their constituents likely care about, like affordable housing and the state's childcare system, which has been in crisis during the pandemic. Plus, Democrats note they expanded a tax exemption that will benefit 70% of businesses in the state.

And they passed a massive transportation package, which Governor Jay Inslee has called the largest jobs package in the history of the state; he also called it the cleanest and greenest transportation package in state history, characterizations that seem likely to come up during campaigning.

House Speaker Laurie Jenkins sees the extra state spending as a means of helping everyone recover from the pandemic, rather than potentially favoring some people over others.

"When we go through tough times, folks who go into those tough times [in bad shape], come out of it doing worse, frequently," Jinkins says. "And people who go in doing OK, come out doing better. We wanted to make sure that everyone came out of this better. That's what you're seeing in our operating budget, our capital budget and our policy bills."

Republicans don't quite see it that way.


From Republicans' perspective, Democrats committed two cardinal sins: They rejected across-the-board tax cuts, and they didn't do enough to help middle-class Washingtonians — at least, not from their perspective.

"I think that our middle-income families, right now, are being hit the hardest, and I don't see help for them," says state Sen. Lynda Wilson, the ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee. "We really had an opportunity to do that this year. We could've made history doing that this year, and we didn't."

The philosophical divides between Republicans and Democrats were clear this session in a way that set the stage for a key election.

In addition to budgetary differences, constituents are likely to hear more about the governor's handling of the pandemic, police accountability and gun rights.

Every step of the way, Republicans sought to contrast themselves in how they would do things differently if they were the majority party.

Whether that will prove to be an effective strategy won't be clear, though, until the ballots are counted in November.