The new restrictions announced by Gov. Jay Inslee earlier this month come in the wake of rising COVID-19 infections across Washington. There is room to debate the details of these restrictions, but it is clear that further action is needed.
At the same time, the $100 million that Gov. Inslee set aside for business relief falls short of the need Washingtonians will experience in the next month of partial shutdowns, and it comes without the kind of planning needed to inspire confidence from thousands of small business owners and workers who now face an uncertain future.
The governor holds out hope that the federal government may send additional funding to meet the full need. But we shouldn’t count on that. Between our state budget stabilization account and our capacity to approve a supplemental budget, state resources could and should be available to provide small businesses with much needed relief and recovery planning. With a revenue forecast that far exceeds what was predicted earlier in the year, the Legislature can reprioritize funds to meet the crisis at hand.
Many legislators on both sides of the aisle have repeatedly asked the governor for a special session since he enacted his Stay Home order. As we face a new round of shutdowns impacting our state’s economy, legislative action is needed now more than ever. Gov. Inslee must call an immediate virtual special session of the Legislature so that lawmakers can act swiftly, just as we did in March when we worked together on a bipartisan basis to appropriate $200 million for the initial COVID-19 response.
Special sessions are not uncommon — governors have called the Legislature into special sessions to reach budget agreements, protect the environment, pass tax incentives for the aerospace industry and even build a stadium for the Seattle Mariners.
Yet in this tumultuous year — a year when men and women with serious concerns about their livelihoods and health have contacted their legislators pleading for a voice in their government — Washington’s Legislature has not met since March. Other than approving Gov. Inslee’s suspensions of statutes and communicating with his office and state agencies on behalf of constituents, legislators have been sidelined during the pandemic.
Lawmakers can stand with our governor in promoting public health while also committing ourselves to the relief that is sorely needed by our small businesses and workers. The Legislature is uniquely suited to provide the needed combination of immediate aid to small businesses and individuals, along with legislation to promote a smooth recovery — which could include a hiatus on business and occupation tax payments for qualifying businesses, a limit on unemployment tax increases and rental assistance. Additionally, by convening the Legislature, lawmakers can take action to protect and fund our stressed hospitals and long-term care facilities that are so critical to the fight against COVID-19.
Some may point out that the Legislature will convene for its regular session in less than two months. Two months may not seem like a long time, but some of our businesses will not survive the next month. Every single day counts for dining and retail establishments struggling to stay in business. A comprehensive relief and recovery package for our small businesses cannot wait until 2021. And we cannot wait until additional federal aid that may or may not come. We need legislative action now.