Jan. 27, 2023
Hello Friends and Neighbors,
Week three of our legislative session saw the first real votes by the full Senate. By “real” I mean policy legislation, not the housekeeping sort of measures that set the rules and the deadlines for committee and floor action on bills.
I’m a co-sponsor of one of the policy bills passed this week, which has to do with extending and expanding the state’s farm-internship program. Credit for the smart changes found in SB 5156, however, goes to its prime sponsor – Sen. Nikki Torres, one of the new members of our Senate Republican Caucus. She serves the 15th Legislative District, which essentially runs from Yakima to Pasco and up and around Othello, which is home to a lot of our state’s prime agricultural land.
One of Senator Torres’ committees is Ways and Means. As the committee’s Republican leader I’m happy to have her and her background as a Pasco city councilor on our team.
Supreme Court hears arguments in income-tax appeal; state wants to rush ruling
It’s been close to a year since a superior court ruled that the state income tax passed by the Democratic majority in 2021 is unconstitutional. That’s been my position all along — and I also see it as being completely unnecessary. The judge didn’t buy the argument that the tax, on the “capital gains” from selling certain assets, is not an income tax but an excise tax. An income tax that doesn’t apply to everyone is illegal in Washington because it would violate the “uniformity” clause in the state constitution.
To no one’s surprise, that ruling was appealed to the Supreme Court – as the proponents hoped. Arguments in the case were heard yesterday, with the attorney general’s office speaking in favor of the tax – because its job is to defend the position taken by the Legislature (meaning the majority).
I’ve been too busy to delve into who said what yesterday, but I do know the state ended its argument with a very unusual request. In so many words it was “hey, justices, the collection of the income tax starts April 18, and the Legislature adjourns April 23, maybe you could get us a yes or no before then and follow up with a written opinion later?”
Why rush the court to hurry its decision? It’s because the governor “booked” the anticipated revenue from the income tax in the budget proposal he submitted to us in December. The Democratic budget writers in the Senate and House must be planning to do the same. If they write a budget that includes the income-tax revenue, then the high court throws the tax out, it puts a gaping hole in that budget. Then they would be forced to cut a billion-plus dollars or quite possibly look at raising taxes to fill the hole. Either way it would almost certainly push the session into overtime, and be a big embarrassment for the majority.
I have a solution: Don’t book the revenue from a tax unless you know it’s constitutional! The Economic Revenue and Forecast Council, which I chair, met this week to talk about what will be considered in this year’s first-quarter revenue forecast (coming in March). I and my House Republican counterpart asked for a version that doesn’t include income-tax revenue. We think it’s the responsible approach to take.
P.S. – Five members of the progressive wing of the Senate Democrats have proposed a major change in the income-tax law, even though the law is in limbo. Their SB 5335 would do away with the $250,000 threshold, so that everyone is subject to the tax, and increase the tax rate. They want the additional money to fund what amounts to universal health care.
My question is, why would anyone propose a change to a tax that isn’t constitutional unless they have reason to believe the Supreme Court is going to overturn the lower-court ruling? Are they optimistic because they see a majority of the justices were originally appointed to the court by Democratic governors – or is their bill more an example of virtue-signaling?
|In 1993 the voters created a state spending limit, based primarily on the growth of personal income. It was repealed in 2020. My SB 5359 would restore a spending cap, this time using annual median wage growth and population change as the factors. I testified about my idea Tuesday before our Senate Ways and Means Committee; to view the discussion click here.
When is property-tax relief not a good idea?
In 2020 a Democratic senator introduced a bill to eliminate the sales tax on feminine-hygiene products. It was a copycat move, as I had already put the same policy on the table in 2019 (and each of the three years before that). My SB 5147 made it into law, and the estimated $3 million annual savings to women and families made it the largest tax savings approved that year.
Last year I proposed a “homestead exemption” bill that would basically exempt the first $250,000 of a home’s value from the state property tax. It’s progressive tax relief in that the tax burden decreases in proportion with the home’s value.
I brought that legislation back this year as SB 5387/SJR 8204 – and it’s an improvement because it recognizes that many people are renters, and offers a renter’s credit. Wouldn’t you know, within several days a group of Democratic senators introduced SB 5495/SJR 8206.
These proposals are not as similar as they may seem on the surface. The Democrats would offer relief in the form of a tax rebate, where my approach would simply lower your tax bill. I think most people would prefer my approach, because they would get to keep their money all along.
More important, the Democratic approach to property-tax relief is a bad idea because it also would do away with the uniformity clause in Washington’s constitution. That’s a very big snake in the grass, because, as the report on the state income tax above points out, the uniformity clause has protected Washingtonians from an income tax for decades.
- No-bail holds in DV cases (SB 5076) – This bill is another part of my effort to strengthen our state’s domestic-violence laws based on the sad lessons we learned from the 2019 murder of Vancouver mom Tiffany Hill. It would basically allow no-bail holds in DV cases until the person arrested makes an appearance in court.
My bill has bipartisan sponsorship, but the chair of the Law and Justice has signaled she wants to include this proposal in a broader discussion, as part of a work session. That’s not encouraging, but then again, it took years to get Democrats to get behind the policy that we now know as the Tiffany Hill Act. I’m not going to be deterred.
- Better use of food-fish tax (SB 5488) – Washington levies a tax on the commercial harvest of certain fish – salmon, other food fish, and certain shellfish. Most of the revenue goes into the general fund, with a portion going into the state wildlife account.
This bill would send all of the revenue into the state wildlife account, where it would help maintain fishing, hunting, and recreational opportunities in our state. It’s scheduled for a public hearing Monday in the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks.
- Coverage of biomarker testing (SB 5074) – Senator Cleveland, who chairs the Senate health-care committee, is co-sponsoring my bill this year. That suggests this legislation, which represents very good news for cancer patients, may get farther than it did last year. As the National Cancer Institute (cancer.gov) puts it, “Each person’s cancer has a unique pattern of biomarkers. Some biomarkers affect how certain cancer treatments work.”
SB 5074 received a committee hearing on Jan. 20, and I hope a committee vote is scheduled soon.
Another call for students to sponsor as Senate pages
Our office still has slots available for area students who want to come to the Capitol for a week and serve as a Senate page. There’s no other civic-education program like it in our state – and the students also get paid!
The minimum age for pages is 14; the maximum age has typically been 16, but an exception is being made this year to allow older students because the page program was suspended in 2021 and 2022. Click here for general information about the program and how to apply, as well as the special consideration for older teens.
I hope you will reach out whenever you have a comment or question about your state government.
Yours in service,
To read this e-newsletter in other languages, click here to visit my Senate news page and find the “Select Language” menu in the upper left corner!