E-NEWSLETTER: A session like I’ve never seen

March 10, 2018

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

This year’s legislative session ended late Thursday night, and I was glad to head home to the 17th District yesterday afternoon. On the way I finally had time to reflect on our 60 days at the Capitol, and the story line is pretty simple: I was encouraged by the good bipartisan decisions seen early on, but things were going in a very partisan direction by the end. That was a big contrast from my previous three years of legislative service, and a big disappointment as well.

In two weeks, on Saturday, March 24, I plan to join with Representative Harris and Representative Kraft to hold a 17th District town-hall meeting. It will start at 10:30 a.m., and we are still working on the location – I will send a reminder with the address when we get closer.

In the meantime, here are some things I am taking away from the 2018 session, starting with the good.

  • A “fix” for the Hirst court decision: The 2016 ruling by the state Supreme Court in the Hirst case basically made it impossible for rural property owners to put in a well, in places not served by community water systems, and that in turn froze rural development. A solution was worked out early in this year’s session and reached the governor’s desk on January 19. Unfortunately, it was likely the high point for bipartisanship in the 2018 session.

  • Income tax, energy tax proposals fail: This year the House Democrats’ initial budget proposal called for imposing Washington’s first state income tax, in the form of a tax on income from capital gains. It’s the first time I can recall that the income tax was actually factored into the budget proposal, but that is as far as it got – they dropped the idea before the first budget vote. My Democrat colleagues in the Senate endorsed Governor Inslee’s energy-tax proposal (Senate Bill 6203), even though it would have meant as an immediate 12-cent tax on a gallon of gas without any road improvements in exchange. However, the measure ran out of gas without coming to a full Senate vote. I appreciate all the feedback from constituents on these two tax issues and the help many of you gave by contacting other lawmakers to express your opposition.

  • Win for domestic-violence victims: My legislation to help domestic-violence victims was delivered to the governor on Tuesday after sailing through the Legislature. Senate Bill 5213 allows a court to award certain fees to limited license legal technicians, whose services are limited in Washington to family-law matters, with an emphasis on assisting with domestic-violence protection orders. The services offered by LLLTs can be less costly – good news to a domestic-violence victim who simply needs help with a protection order. Also, by helping LLLTs to be paid more reliably, my bill can help to keep this affordable legal support option available to serve more domestic-violence victims.

Here are just a couple ways that the recent shift to one-party control of the lawmaking process was evident as the session wound down:

  • Majority refuses to offer full property-tax relief, despite diverting money from rainy-day fund: Property owners across the state are seeing a one-year property-tax “spike” due to an overlap in state and local school levies. The House majority engineered this as part of last year’s bipartisan education-funding reforms. Fortunately, we learned in mid-February that state-government revenues are running $2.3 billion ahead of expectations. It positioned the Legislature to effectively roll back the property-tax spike in full, this year, through a one-time use of one-time money.

    Instead, the Senate majority chose to offer only partial relief – not dollar for dollar, like our side would have, but 30 cents on the dollar. The relief won’t come until 2019, when property taxes will be falling anyway due to the reforms passed last year. But the biggest disappointment was how my Democrat colleagues chose to pay for it all – by ignoring the state constitution. By voting to divert $935 million of this unexpected tax revenue away from the general fund, they effectively hijacked a $700 million deposit into the rainy-day fund that is protected in the constitution. It’s the equivalent of robbing the armored truck before it gets to the bank, because the constitution would have kept them from tapping the emergency bank account.

  • Another year without tax fairness for manufacturers: The 2017-19 budget we adopted last year supported a bill that would have started the process of reducing the business-and-occupation tax imposed on manufacturers outside of aerospace. Over four years the tax rate would have fallen gradually until it equaled the rate paid by aerospace manufacturers since 2013. The bill, which received strong bipartisan support in both houses of the Legislature, fell victim to the governor’s veto pen soon after we passed it, after he was pressured by a group of Democrat legislators.

    The Republican alternative budget I supported this year would have put us back on the path to reducing the B&O tax to make it uniform and fair for manufacturers across the state. The revenue windfall would have allowed the Democrat majority in the Senate to do the same, but they showed no interest.

    Washington’s manufacturing sector has lost nearly 50,000 jobs since the turn of the century – jobs that can be among the best-paying jobs in a community, in addition to being more accessible to people with a wide range of education and training experience. A lower tax rate would not only be fair but could invigorate the manufacturing sector – and that could be especially important in more rural areas. It’s hard to believe that my colleagues in the Democrat majority have changed their tune since last year and now refuse to get behind such a key part of our economy.

All in all, it made for a disappointing session to see case after case of politics being put ahead of policy.

Yours in service,