E-Newsletter: Let’s talk Monday!

Hello Friends and Neighbors,

I’ll start this report with one more call to sign up for our “virtual” town hall, which will be from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. this coming Monday. I’m confident Rep. Harris and Rep. Kraft will have plenty to report; I certainly will, especially about the state’s budget situation and what the recent Senate vote for a state income tax means. We’ll use the Zoom platform to take your questions while you remain in the comfort of your home. That platform requires you to register ahead of time, so click here – I don’t want to miss your questions and comments!

As the budget leader for our Senate Republican Caucus, I’ve been paying attention to decisions made in Washington, D.C. that affect our state’s budget situation. The stimulus package approved in late December was the driver for the $2.2 billion pandemic-relief package approved by the Legislature in February. Now that another stimulus bill has been approved in our nation’s capital, here’s a question. Just how much can the state expect… $4 billion? $7 billion? How about $15 BILLION!

That’s right, Washington is expecting about $15 billion for state and local governments from the $1.9 TRILLION federal stimulus package signed yesterday. Keep that in mind as you read this report.

It’s unanimous – state should move to ‘Phase 3’
A week ago I shared the basics of the Republican “Open Safe, Open Now” approach. Although the governor had seemed dismissive at first, guess what: yesterday he endorsed something remarkably similar, which makes me think our proposal served as a model. Here’s the statement I issued after his announcement:

“This is good news, although I wish it had come sooner. Republicans have seen the COVID-19 numbers falling around our state, which is why we had called a week ago for moving to a Phase 3 that would allow 50% capacity, return to a county-by-county basis, and fully reopen our public schools. The governor has been catching up with the Republican position when it comes to schools, and I’m glad to see he’s now done the same about easing the business restrictions. Our restaurants and many others hadn’t been allowed 50% capacity since early November, so a lot of people have been waiting four months for this – and for some, it’s been far longer.

“I still believe the move to Phase 3 could and should be made immediately, instead of waiting another 10 days. I also had hoped the governor would match our plan and allow for a Phase 4 of 100% capacity after three weeks in Phase 3, provided hospital capacity is preserved. But the headline for now is that our counties and employers have a clearer path out of the limbo they’ve been in for weeks, and if Republican efforts helped get them there, great!”

Sure enough, Democrat majority approves income-tax bill
I’ll concede that the $1.9 trillion “American Rescue Act” hadn’t been fully approved this past Saturday, when the state income-tax bill came to the Senate floor. But no one doubted there would be Congressional approval – and by the same token, there was no real doubt that Senate Bill 5096 would pass the Senate if it actually was brought to a vote.

As lead Republican on the Senate Ways and Means Committee, I led off our side’s defense against the income-tax bill. One of the amendments I offered would allow for a family business to be passed down without being subject to the tax. This hasn’t been a business-friendly legislative session, in spite of how employers have suffered due to the pandemic, and in keeping with that my proposal was rejected.

Why would the majority Democrats approve an income-tax bill even though they had to already know a windfall of money would be coming from the “other Washington”? I’ll repeat something from a week ago: E-mails uncovered through a public-records request make it clear that the Democrat strategy is to get an income tax passed, knowing it will be challenged in court, then hope the current state Supreme Court will decide the tax is constitutional.

The one bright spot about the income-tax vote was this: The final decision was preceded by the removal of the wording that would have stopped voters from putting a referendum on the ballot to either confirm or repeal the tax, should it become law. The question is whether the House will insult voters by restoring that language.

Otherwise, 15 Republican amendments were rejected by the Democratic majority, including one that would have made Washington’s tax system less regressive. Considering the regressivity argument is one of the things income-tax supporters point to, what does it say when they refuse to lower the (regressive) sales tax?

As I put it in a leadership statement issued after the March 6 vote, our state doesn’t need an income tax. The people don’t want an income tax. An income tax is the “‘third rail” of tax policy in our state, and I believe my Democratic colleagues miscalculated by supporting it.

Despite deadline, many Wilson bills still alive – as ‘NTIB’
Although the Senate has officially completed its voting on bills introduced in the Senate, “officially” is the key word. Bills that are designated as NTIB – Necessary To Implement the Budget – remain in play because they could end up in the budget package. I’ve got several in that category:

  • SB 5324: A tax exemption that would save money for purchasers of wheelchairs, walkers and canes – defined as “mobility devices.”
  • SB 5337: This would raise, by $5,000, the income threshold for the property-tax exemption program for seniors and disabled persons.
  • SB 5451: This is the Senate Republican operating-budget proposal, which maintains current services and provides for several visionary investments without the need for more taxes.
  • SB 5463/SJR 8206: This would create what’s known as a “homestead exemption,” meaning a certain amount of a property’s value is exempt from property taxes. In the case of this bill, the first $250,000 of valuation would be exempt. Big tax relief!
  • SB 5464: This is my bill to reopen schools unless the governor, secretary of health or local public-health officials says otherwise. Governor Inslee doesn’t have the authority to force schools to reopen, unlike his Oregon counterpart; this bill acknowledges that and flips the authority question around, to reach the same outcome.

‘Still time for lawmakers to act on emergency powers reform’
That’s the subject line of a post from the non-partisan Washington Policy Center regarding the lack of legislative action on any of several bills to reform the law granting emergency powers to Washington’s governor. These bills include my SB 5039, which has bipartisan sponsorship and would not change the “powers” part but authorize the Legislature to review ALL proclamations made using those powers.

I respectfully disagree with a Thursday editorial in Tacoma’s News Tribune that claims legislative proposals to curb governor’s emergency power are “all but dead.” SB 5039 could be revived at any time before our session ends. I agree with the editorial on one point, however: “The problem is that there’s little appetite among Democrats to challenge Inslee. That’s a shame. Power-sharing between the three branches of government shouldn’t be a partisan issue.”

High-tax fuel-standard bill reaches Senate – and it’s moving fast
Just as the “excise” tax in SB 5096 is more truthfully called an income tax, the “clean fuel standards” bill requested by Governor Inslee would be more truthfully called a high-tax fuel standard. House Bill 1091 was approved by the House Democrats after a five-hour debate on February 27; it had a public hearing Wednesday in the Senate energy committee and is already scheduled for a committee vote this coming Tuesday.

This legislation would require refineries to reduce the carbon content of their fuel or buy credits. The credits would be generated by electric vehicle-charging infrastructure, meaning gas purchasers would subsidize the electrification of transportation. If HB 1091 passes, it’s estimated the new mandate could drive up the price of gasoline by 57 cents per gallon, and diesel by 63 cents.

Any policy that increases the cost of fuel or energy is regressive, which goes against the “progressive” talk we’re hearing again this session. Besides being harder on lower-income people, changing the fuel standards will raise prices for every person who drives a vehicle, and have a ripple effect on every sector of our economy which relies on transportation. That includes the cost of putting food on our tables – and I also think about the construction equipment that runs on diesel. When construction costs go up, so does the cost of housing. And this bill would have little if any benefit to the already clean air in our state.