E-NEWSLETTER: So long, Oregonians?

Hello, Friends and Neighbors!

My previous newsletter had focused on how this year’s session ended on time (barely) but with a ton of new taxes, most of which were rushed through in the final few days. That was frustrating enough. However, in the few weeks since coming home I’ve had time to sort through more of the details, and the closer I look, the more incensed I get.

To top it off, I went up to the Capitol on Tuesday to be present when two of my bills were signed. The governor happened to be signing the whole batch of tax increases the same day. It reminded me how we used the term “Taxapalooza” to describe what was going on in Olympia – and that word still fits, as I’ll explain.

The upcoming Memorial Day holiday means a long weekend for many people, which in turn can mean travel and time with family. As the daughter of an Air Force veteran, I encourage you to also take time to remember why we observe Memorial Day and those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation. For instance, this will be the first Memorial Day since Army Sgt. 1st Class Eric M. Emond, a hero who called Brush Prairie home, was killed in action in Afghanistan in November. Let us keep fallen service members like him and their loved ones in our hearts.

The town hall meeting we had to postpone in March is back on! It’ll be Saturday, June 1; see the box for the time and location. It’ll be a great opportunity to explain some of the bills that were passed, including my legislation that goes after license fraud, and who’ll be affected by all the new taxes (Hint: It’s YOU!).

Ten new taxes reach almost $25 billion over 10 years

I wasn’t a legislator in 2010 but as someone involved in business, I was paying attention when that year’s legislative session produced nearly $2.5 billion in tax increases. Those new taxes, which set a record and included increases on certain business sectors, went to plug a budget hole that was caused by too much spending and relying too heavily on “one-time” dollars.

What happened this year is worse than 2010 because there was no budget hole to plug. We came into the 2019 session about $500 million on the plus side, and could have maintained services and programs at today’s levels while investing even more in priorities like special education and behavioral health. Yet my Democrat colleagues spent so much more in the new budget that they approved $1.1 billion in additional taxes to balance it. That new tax burden will climb to $4 billion over a four-year period, because a payroll tax will kick in, and the 10-year cost will reach almost $25 billion once you factor in the higher local school-tax rates that were endorsed this year.

As my previous report noted, not one of these new taxes was truly necessary. It’s also a complete departure from the tax stability enjoyed by Washington residents during the six years (2012-17) that Republicans were involved in budget decisions.

Are these new tax dollars at least going toward priorities? Well, one of the Legislature’s failures this year was that it did not do enough to fund the replacement of the culverts under state roads that block fish passage. This is a legal obligation, according to the state Supreme Court, that concerns salmon recovery (and by extension the orcas in Puget Sound). How is it possible that the majority side could approve the biggest budget in state history and all these tax increases and still not allocate enough money to make even a big dent in the culvert problem? That’s unbelievable!

Farewell to Oregonians shopping in Washington?

While none of the tax changes approved this year is harmless, the one that has me most concerned is the ending of the non-resident tax exemption. It means shoppers from Oregon didn’t have to pay Washington sales tax, and gives them more reason to do business on our side of the Columbia.

The passage of Senate Bill 5997 turns the exemption into a tax-remittance program, meaning Oregon residents who buy from Washington merchants have to start paying Washington taxes when the law takes effect July 28. They can request a refund (for the state portion only) just once per calendar year, and it has to be for at least $25. It seems clear that those who wanted the tax are hoping enough Oregon residents will say “why bother?” and let Washington keep their money. My concern is that Oregonians will instead say “why bother shopping across the river?” and stay away.

This could be detrimental to many retailers in Clark County, and I even think it could do harm up the road in Cowlitz County. My legislative assistant worked in retail in the Longview-Kelso area after high school; she recalls clearly how many people came over the Lewis and Clark Bridge from the Oregon side to do their shopping, avoiding a longer drive to Portland or Astoria in the process. It’s hard to believe that two state representatives from Vancouver helped pass SB 5997. I was one of 38 legislators who asked the governor to veto the bill, to no avail.

Democrat lawmakers have gone after this tax exemption before, but Republicans were able to block it. I highly doubt that it will really generate $54 million in the first two years. Either way, does that justify the potential loss of jobs in our state’s border cities and counties, from Longview to Walla Walla and on around the Idaho side?

In all, 17 bills I sponsored became law

SB 5148, to let hunters choose blaze-pink safety clothing, was my first bill to be passed by the Legislature this year, and the first signed by the governor.

This week brought the signing of SB 5151, which is intended to increase public access to growth-management decisions and actions, as well as the governor’s endorsement of my SB 5362, which goes after vehicle license fraud in Clark County and elsewhere in Washington. Because I introduced these bills I’m the “prime” sponsor; like a parent I’m proud that they’ve become law.  

Besides going straight after Washington residents who fraudulently license vehicles in Oregon to save money, the law created by my SB 5362 — which was signed Tuesday — will have the added benefit of addressing the fraudulent use of Oregon IDs to avoid our state tax on retail purchases. Sen. Curtis King of Yakima and Rep. Larry Hoff of Vancouver were among those joining me at this ceremony; they also represent parts of Clark County.

I was also glad to see that 14 bills I co-sponsored have been signed after being passed by the Legislature. These include measures related to firefighter safety, telemedicine, tiny houses, concealed pistol licenses, skill centers and even the adoption of research animals. Some were introduced by Democrat senators, others by my fellow Republicans, but the one thing they had in common was that all seemed like good ideas to me!

Of course, attending the bill-signing ceremony reminded me of my legislation that didn’t pass. As May is Military Appreciation Month, it would have been great to see the governor sign my Mental Health for Heroes bill (SB 5428) – but for some reason, in spite of all the new taxes and spending they approved, leaders of the majority party again blocked this worthwhile proposal when it reached the House budget committee.

I’ll close by again saying thanks for all the e-mails and letters and phone calls that came in during our session, including the messages of support as I went through the first two phases of my treatment for breast cancer. I am now cancer-free and on the tail end of my final treatments, and feeling better than ever!

Please stay in touch during the months before the Legislature takes up again in January, and if at all possible please join us at the June 1 town hall!

Yours in service,