As frontline communities we are increasing the self-determination and solutions of our communities — those disproportionately impacted by pollution, damage to the climate, and an inequitable economy — to accelerate systemic change together. Our 2022 legislative priorities aim to transform our energy and transportation systems to provide equitable access to affordable and renewable power and transportation on our path toward a Just Transition. We want to thank our community membership and our supporters who helped us get frontline voices to the decision-making tables in Olympia and get our priorities over the finish line. Find out more about what we fought for and what we won this session.
Front and Centered Community-Led Priorities
In Washington, nearly one-third of our greenhouse gas emissions come from cars and trucks, and no surprise, we also have among the highest asthma rates in the nation. Meanwhile, state transportation funding does not provide mobility for all — 25% of the state’s population have no driver’s license, yet only 4% of the state’s transportation budget goes for transit, bike, and pedestrian investments. When Front and Centered asked our members for their transportation priorities, communities of color across the state could not be more clear: better public transit, cleaner air, and safer streets.
In the 2022 session, Front and Centered, along with our partners Disability Rights Mobility Initiative, 350 Washington, Transit Riders Union, and The Washington Bus, advocated for a transformational shift in our transportation priorities, from highways and pollution to mobility justice and healthy communities. We laid out clear investment priorities for transit, active transportation and ADA compliance projects in local or tribal areas, and we stood firmly against projects that would further pollution, greenhouse gasses, and barriers to opportunity. We called for the legislature to conduct environmental justice assessments to reveal the true impacts of transportation investments.
We made a significant impact. Following the lead of Congress, Democrats in Olympia passed a huge transportation and infrastructure bill — Move Ahead WA (SB 5974 and SB 5975) — that includes over $5 billion in dedicated funding for public transportation and active transportation (walking, biking, and rolling). Front and Centered celebrates these investments!
Previous transportation packages dedicated over 80% of the budget to new highways and roads with very little going to public transportation and maintenance of existing roads. We were one of the few to stand up and fight for what we really need rather than what we were told to accept as good enough. Our message and advocacy helped transform the conversation and the investments, and we should be proud of what we were able to accomplish together over the last two years, even if there’s still work to do to change business as usual.
This funding and approach is historic and begins to recognize transportation needs for everyone while creating options to reduce our reliance on fossil fuel pollution. At the same time, the legislature took a familiar step backwards by including billions of dollars for new, and continuing highway expansion projects that will only add to already existing health disparities in our frontline communities. Highway expansion projects lock in new vehicle miles traveled and new greenhouse gasses for decades to come. Worse yet the use unrestricted funds a $3 billion dollar transfer from the general operating budget to the transportation package. These two budgets have historically been kept separate and general fund dollars could have been used for other vital programs such as housing, education, homelessness services, energy assistance, and more that are not eligible for capital investment.
In other transportation news, Front and Centered secured a budget proviso that will aid us documenting what we really need from our transportation investments. The legislature allocated $250K to define what a frequent and accessible system of public transportation standard should be in Washington State, identifying gaps by race, age, and ability. The study will be conducted by the WA Department of Transportation and in consultation with the Joint Transportation Committee and is due to the legislature in December 2022.
People across Washington are struggling to pay for basic needs, made worse by the pandemic. Existing energy assistance programs are failing to reach most of those eligible, and monthly utility bills are an increasing burden, leaving many to struggle to make payments, fall into debt, and risk shut off. We cannot go back to disconnections and debt.
Following over a year of advocacy to prevent energy utility disconnections during COVID and advance an equitable transition to 100% renewable energy through previous successful legislation, Front and Centered brought Energy for All (HB 1490), championed by Rep. Harris-Talley (37th LD), back to the legislature, a policy to ensure a universal right to energy access and affordability, no matter your utility.
Our priority energy assistance law was unfortunately not scheduled for a vote in the House Environment and Energy Committee and this bill died early in session. Our policy lead, Mariel, and members from our E4A working group met with Chair Joe Fitzgibbon and utility stakeholders during session and during the interim but with the policy cutoff deadline approaching we ran out of time. Utilities were and still are reluctant to get behind a program that would ensure reduced energy burden without receiving state support and were unwilling to use ratepayer dollars progressively to ensure energy equity. The E4A workgroup along with Rep. Kirsten Harris-Talley will regroup in the interim and see how we can move forward next session.
In 2021, the legislature defined environmental justice to include the “meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, rules, and policies” and allocated $14.8 million to state agencies to advance environmental justice as a result of the education, policy development, and advocacy of Front and Centered and supporters. But while the legislature funded state agency work, they did not directly resource community capacity to participate in public engagement opportunities. That was our priority this session.
Front and Centered was successful in securing $500K to establish an Environmental Justice Community Participation Fund by and for community based organizations. The participation fund will allocate grants to community based organizations serving vulnerable populations in highly impacted communities in rural and urban areas for the purpose of supporting their communities’ access, understanding, and participation in EJ Council deliberations and the implementation of the HEAL Act. Join us in thanking Sen. Rebecca Saldaña for sponsoring this proviso. Also, community organizations, be on the lookout for opportunities to access these grant funds in the coming months and over the next year!
Priorities Front and Centered Shaped
Climate Resiliency and GHG Goals Under the Growth Management Act (GMA)
The Growth Management Act directs planning processes on the local level that eventually determine what gets built where. But the existing law says nothing about climate pollution, resilience, or environmental justice. Closely linked to our transportation priorities to reduce transportation pollution and advance mobility justice, Front and Centered advocated to require local comprehensive plans to address climate change, with a lens of climate and environmental justice.
Front and Centered Consideration
In addition to our priorities, we tracked a number of bills during session that impact justice and the transition. Also some which may perpetuate harm and some that provide a foundation for climate, economic, and environmental justice.
Compensation for Community Members Serving on Statewide Commissions, Boards, and Councils
Front and Centered has been expanding on our work in the HEAL Act to ensure the state is moving toward equitable co-governance with communities most impacted. We were excited to see the legislature pass SB 5793 which provides up to $200 per day to individuals who are low income or have lived experience and serve on a statewide board or commission. While this bill does not provide funding for all community members to be paid for their service on statewide groups, it helps us start to compensate communities for their expertise and increase access to decision-making spaces in WA. The bill also allows for child and adult care reimbursement, lodging, and travel expenses to be provided to eligible individuals in addition to stipend amounts.
Working Families Tax Credit (WFTC)
The WFTC coalition, led by the team at WA Budget and Policy Center, was able to secure $10 million in community grants to boost outreach for the new tax credit that begins in 2023. These funds will be distributed by the Department of Commerce, in partnership with community based organizations, and used to conduct outreach to communities who might not know they are eligible to receive the credit starting next year.
We will continue to keep our members and supporters up to date on the implementation of priority laws and budget provisos between legislative sessions.