Author Archives: ericcampbell

Predicted $9 billion revenue loss affirms need for June special session, Republican leaders say

By ericcampbell | Published on June 17, 2020

OLYMPIA…Senate Republican leaders today repeated their call for a June special session of the Legislature now that Washington’s chief economist has predicted a $9 billion loss in state-government revenue over the next three years.

From Sen. John Braun of Centralia, who serves the state’s 20th Legislative District:

“This forecast confirms there are about a billion reasons to meet in special session right away instead of waiting. The Legislature still has time to pull back on all the new spending commitments that are scheduled to take effect July 1, and free up about a billion dollars that would be put toward maintaining critical services instead. People have had their lives disrupted enough as it is these past few months. In a matter of days we can take steps to avoid actual budget cuts and prevent even more disruption that would take years to overcome.”

“Some of my colleagues are resisting the idea of meeting this month in hopes that the federal government will come through with more money later this summer. That’s a gamble we should not take, especially when it could jeopardize services that are so important to vulnerable communities across our state. The focus needs to be on letting go of new programs this month, before they start, in favor of maintaining the programs already in place. Today’s forecast affirms the need to take action now.”

From Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler of Ritzville, who serves Washington’s 9th District:

“Between the COVID-19 pandemic, the hundreds of millions lost by the Employment Security Department and the hundreds of millions that won’t be collected through the unconstitutional tax on banks, some big holes have been blown in the state’s financial picture. The Legislature has the ultimate control over the budget, yet Governor Inslee has chosen to keep us from stepping in – even though the executive and legislative branches are co-equal under our constitution, and we directly represent the people who have endured his response to the pandemic.

“So far he’s refused to call a special session on the grounds that no one has brought him a plan that would win support from a majority of the Legislature and get his signature. That argument falls short coming from the same governor who shut the state down without first having a plan for reopening it.

“There is a price to pay for inaction. I know from dealing with past deficits that for every dollar you save in June, you avoid having to find $1.50 in savings come January. Surely the governor knows that too. I can’t imagine why he would prevent the Legislature from taking action now, even though we have time, knowing it’s likely to force harder decisions down the road.”

Republican lawmakers call for emergency legislative session in June

By ericcampbell | Published on May 21, 2020

Republican leaders in the state Legislature say lawmakers need to meet next month to deal with emergency issues related to public health, Washington’s economic recovery and the state budget, all stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When the Legislature adjourned in mid-March the public-health crisis related to COVID-19 was still emerging. Now there’s an economic crisis and a budget crisis in addition to the ongoing public-health crisis. The Legislature can respond to this larger emergency in ways the governor can’t, and Senate and House Republicans believe that needs to happen in June before the new budget takes effect,” said Sen. John Braun, budget leader for the Senate Republican Caucus.

“The Legislature has been kept on the sidelines for more than two months while the governor exercised emergency powers long past the time when his original goal of “flattening the curve” was realized and hospital resources were not overwhelmed,” said Sen. Mark Schoesler, Senate Republican leader. “Republicans have listened to the people and looked at the data and have seen what the micromanagement by the executive branch is doing to our communities. It is time for the legislative branch to intervene.”

The two senators say an emergency session would allow the Legislature to take actions to target specific public-health concerns related to the COVID-19 crisis, do more to help with the reopening of Washington’s economy, and address the substantial damage to the state budget caused by a stay-home order that still has at least 10 days to go. The list of Republican priorities also include ensuring the restart of school in the fall and ways to help the state’s manufacturing sector.

The timing of an emergency session is critical for minimizing the threat to important state-funded services and programs, said Braun, R-Centralia.

“Changes have to be made to the state budget because the state’s rainy-day fund isn’t large enough to entirely cover the projected revenue losses caused by the stay-home order,” he said. “That means the Legislature must act before budget changes take effect July 1, to pull back new spending and prevent more cuts to the vulnerable down the road.”

Schoesler, R-Ritzville, noted the governor’s “phased approach” to reopening the state economy won’t take full effect until mid-July at the earliest, which doesn’t acknowledge the economic realities facing the hundreds of thousands of working people across Washington who can’t earn a living and support their families without being present at a job site.

“I wish tax relief for employers could be our first option, but the state’s revenue situation makes that a challenge. The good news is that the Legislature can and should enact regulatory relief to reduce the overall cost of keeping jobs in our state and keep new regulations from Ecology and others from derailing the economic recovery. That’s a very reasonable approach to take, and the sooner it happens the better for the employers who are just trying to hang on and the hundreds of thousands of Washingtonians who have been put out of work through no fault of their own,” said Schoesler.

An emergency session also will enable lawmakers to address the fact that long-term care facilities became the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in Washington. Data indicate the residents of these facilities represent an especially vulnerable population, yet that wasn’t reflected in the level of attention and support received from state government, the senators said.

In addition, meeting in June would let the Legislature direct school districts to resume regular in-building learning in fall 2020, unless there are extenuating circumstances. That would give districts all summer to get classrooms and schedules ready and related policies and plans in place.

To be clear, here’s what Legislature can and can’t do with governor’s COVID-19 proclamations

By ericcampbell | Published on April 24, 2020

— April 24, 2020

Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit our state earlier this year, Washingtonians have done their best to cope with this terrible disease, which has caused about 12,750 confirmed cases and killed 711 patients in our state as of April 23.

During this pandemic, my fellow Senate Republicans and I have supported Gov. Jay Inslee and his executive-branch agencies when we believed it was warranted, as they strive to minimize the disease’s impact on Washingtonians.

While we have supported many of his proclamations, we believe some of the governor’s restrictions on Washington residents and businesses related to his stay-home order go too far and aren’t consistent. He has closed down several sectors of our state economy that could remain open without putting the workers involved at risk.

One of the most notable of his restrictions that we oppose has been his prohibition on residential and commercial construction. It’s puzzling and frustrating that the governor has allowed government-related construction to continue during the pandemic while putting the brakes on residential construction. Construction workers have lost millions and millions of dollars in lost wages as a result. However, it was encouraging to see the governor announce today that he will allow “low-risk” construction to resume if safe distancing can be followed.

We appreciate that the governor’s stay-home order is intended to keep people safe from COVID-19 and eventually stop the spread of this serious disease. The health and safety of Washingtonians is our highest priority during this crisis. But we care about Washington’s economic health as well as its public health. That is why we not only have asked the governor to ease restrictions on those industries in which employees don’t work in close proximity and thus are at little risk of contracting COVID-19, but also have worked with our House Republican colleagues on creating a plan to safely start to reopen Washington’s economy. You can view that plan here.

Over the past several weeks we have received many questions about the governor’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order, and whether legislators can lift it or extend it.

The short answer is no.

The stay-home order (formally known as Proclamation 20-25, as amended by Proclamation 20-25.1) was issued by the governor under state law (RCW 43.06.220(1)). As a proclamation made under this law’s subsection, the order is not subject to a 30-day time limit.

The governor’s original stay-home order expired on April 8, but he extended it until May 4. The governor might choose to extend the order again. What is important for people to know is that the emergency-powers law under which his order was issued does not give the Legislature the opportunity to determine whether the order should be extended.

Under another subsection in the state law dealing with emergency powers (RCW 43.06.220(2)), some other emergency proclamations do expire after 30 days – and the Legislature does have a role in whether to extend those. When the Legislature is not in session (as now), the legislative leaders of the four caucuses – Senate Republicans, Senate Democrats, House Republicans and House Democrats – can grant an extension for some orders issued under this law.

During the pandemic, other legislative leaders and I have extended 19 proclamations that were set to expire and are subject to review.

My fellow legislative leaders and I agreed to extend certain proclamations because they would provide financial or regulatory relief to our state’s residents during this difficult time when so many Washington families already face a financial burden caused by the pandemic emergency and resulting stay-home order.

Some of those include suspending the accrual of interest on unpaid taxes, waiving the waiting periods for unemployment benefits, and relaxing continuing education requirements to provide flexibility for healthcare workers. In each case our caucus first carefully examined the proclamation and concluded that an extension was warranted. Our caucus has not authorized an extension beyond May 4 for any of the governor’s proclamations over which we have a say.

I hope this explanation about the governor’s proclamations will help people better understand what the Legislature can and can’t do regarding them.

If drag-queen bingo is such a problem, how can state handle sports betting?

By ericcampbell | Published on March 02, 2020

If the House’s sports-wagering bill receives approval by the Senate before the 2020 session ends, the legislation (House Bill 2638) would front the state Gambling Commission $6 million to get going right away with “enforcement actions in the illicit market for sports wagering.”

I take that to mean the agency intends to chase the bad folks out of town so the newly approved gambling operations don’t have to worry about competition once they get up and running. Almost sounds responsible, doesn’t it?

Then I read this column published Saturday in The Seattle Times about the Gambling Commission’s lengthy investigation into “Rainbow Bingo” happening at a senior center.

In this case, “lengthy” means…TWO YEARS. For bingo games hosted by a drag queen.

Yes, we have laws about gambling, and people should obey those laws, but this raises a bunch of questions.

What caused the Gambling Commission to target senior-center bingo? How could it take two years instead of two months? What did this probe cost the taxpayers? Would the agency have saved money if it had spent less time busting bingo games, so that $6 million request could have been smaller?

Here’s the better question, going forward: If it takes two years to investigate bingo games, which are about as simple as gambling gets, is the Gambling Commission truly ready to take on the regulation of something as sophisticated and high-tech as the casino-level sports gambling HB 2638 would allow?

That includes (to use the agency’s own words) gathering intelligence on global match-fixing and cybersecurity issues, monitoring intelligence sources for unusual player activity, and performing statistical analysis of player betting patterns. Those are on top of watching for bookmaking, money-laundering and black-market activities.

This is not about the merits of sports wagering in general or the specifics of the House legislation (which was just amended at my request by the Senate budget committee to prohibit wagering on minor-league sports). It’s about the fact that legalized betting on sports would be a big leap for our state – and if the Gambling Commission gets bogged down by drag-queen bingo, can the people trust the agency to handle such a huge new responsibility?

The $30 million marbled murrelet tax

By ericcampbell | Published on December 06, 2019

— December 6, 2019

Just when I thought 2019 couldn’t get worse for the hardworking taxpayers of Washington, the state Board of Natural Resources this week adopted DNR’s controversial plan to expand protection for the marbled murrelet.

This little seabird spends about 95% of its life at sea, even feeding underwater. DNR’s plan to protect it will reduce timber harvests on state trust lands. It reminds me of the heavy-handed federal action years ago to protect the spotted owl. Timber-producing areas in western Washington never recovered, and I’m told the marbled murrelet may be the last straw for around 1,200 people in the timber industry.

This isn’t bad news just for rural communities in timber country – the DNR plan has negative consequences for families across Washington. Timber sales from trust lands are a significant source of state revenue. School-construction projects, especially those to reduce K-3 class sizes, are a major beneficiary. Trust-land revenue also goes to WSU, UW, counties and local-government entities like libraries, fire districts, and parks, and supports DNR itself.

Each dollar generated by trust lands is a dollar that doesn’t have to come from taxpayers through bond issues or other taxes. Yet I’m told DNR’s plan will cut trust-land revenue by at least $30 million annually by lowering the yearly timber harvest by 85 million board feet (enough lumber to build about 6,500 homes). Another harvest restriction in about four years will deepen the revenue hole to at least $45 million per year.

This year my majority-Democrat colleagues lifted the bipartisan lid on local school levies, which will push many districts to ask voters for more money. The (unelected) natural resources board has done much the same thing (a 4-2 vote, I’m told). Shrinking the available trust-land revenue makes it harder for districts to pursue capital projects aimed at providing a positive learning environment, unless they ask taxpayers for more – call it the “marbled murrelet tax” – to offset the lost state revenue.

What’s worse is that timber country will lose good family-wage jobs along the way. Rural areas don’t have jobs to spare!

In 1991 the logging town of Forks shut down for a day so people could protest the federal government’s spotted-owl plan. A few months ago a school-board member in Forks noted how timber revenues had increased, which could help with financing a new stadium (in rural communities, stadiums are really community facilities). Imagine how this decision is playing there.

Beyond the tax implications, I’m told DNR manages just 9% of western-Washington forestland, which accounts for only around 14% of the murrelet’s total potential habitat. I’m also hearing the plan ignores the effect on habitat from public recreation, and the availability of underwater forage, and that population modeling indicates it’ll do little to change the outlook for the murrelet on state trust lands. And that the plan locks up trust lands which aren’t suitable for murrelet habitat anyway.

There are signs that the taxpayers of our state have reached a tipping point. Wait until they hear about this one.

Mark Schoesler, Senate Republican Leader

Inslee blows the call on taxpayer-subsidized security

By ericcampbell | Published on July 03, 2019

Two years ago this week, Democrat and Republican lawmakers joined to pass one of the most important tax-fairness bills I’ve seen. SB 5977 would have reduced the B&O tax on all manufacturing to match the lower rate extended to aerospace in 2013. I say “would have” because days later Governor Inslee caved to political pressure from left-wingers and vetoed the change.

At the time Inslee attempted to justify the veto by criticizing the process that produced the bill. But in an interview a few weeks later he made the strange claim that “Republicans got caught with their hands in the cookie jar.” Apparently he either forgot or was oblivious to the fact that the Democrat-controlled House passed SB 5977 as well.

Fast forward to the present, and Inslee’s search for a new job, which shows without a doubt that the hand in the cookie jar belongs to…him.

At Inslee’s request the new state operating budget includes $3.474 million solely for the “Executive Protection Unit,” meaning the security detail supplied by the Washington State Patrol. It’s a brand new earmark, clearly coinciding with his out-of-state job hunt.

Inslee publicly defended the funding by saying the 1965 state law about the governor’s personal security doesn’t make exceptions for activities, “whether it’s going to a ballgame or church or visiting a national park.” He insisted the law “is being followed.”

Either the governor is being evasive or he truly doesn’t grasp what the law means.

RCW 43.43.035 contains two sentences. The first requires the WSP to protect the governor and the governor’s family “to the extent and in the manner that the governor and the chief of the Washington state patrol deem adequate and appropriate.” The second extends the protection to a governor-elect as well. That’s it.

There are no exceptions regarding activities, as Inslee said. But what he fails to acknowledge is that nothing in the law forces him to accept this entitlement unconditionally. The references to “extent” and “manner” clearly give Inslee broad authority about how, when and where he is provided security and protection at taxpayer expense.

When he signed the new budget (it took effect this week) Inslee should have vetoed the EPU earmarks that add almost $3.5 million to his office budget, and vowed to use private funds to cover security costs for what is clearly his private venture. Sure, the State Patrol chief might have protested, but he’s in no position to overrule the person who appointed him. Besides, the WSP still has money to cover the usual, legitimate security expenses – around Olympia, at the governor’s family home, and for official state-related travel.

Inslee’s EPU costs for April and May totaled $944,025, a pace that equals nearly $6 million per year. And his job search already costs taxpayers extra because the lieutenant governor gets a 70% pay raise for each day served as acting governor. That alone should have been reason for Inslee to pull his hand out of the cookie jar.

The governor can insist all he wants that dragging WSP officers along on private junkets is a matter of law. However, this is a moral question, not a legal one. It was an easy call to make – but Inslee blew it.

— Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler

Diverse enrollments conflict with claims about law targeted by I-1000

By ericcampbell | Published on April 27, 2019

Republicans don’t control the Senate’s agenda, so what happens with Initiative 1000 is not our call. I do want to be prepared if it comes up for a vote before the session ends, so we’ve had people from both sides of the issue visit our caucus to explain their positions and answer questions.

The April 25 guest column in The Seattle Times about I-1000 made an argument I hadn’t heard. But having represented WSU’s Pullman campus as a legislator since 1993, I thought one of the claims by the author about WSU’s students of color sounded a bit off-target.

The contention is that the I-200 law passed in 1998 “dramatically reduced the number of African Americans and people of color from being able to enroll at the University of Washington and Washington State University.”

Let’s check the numbers. In 1998 there were 384 African American undergraduates at WSU. Last year that number was 827, equal to a 115% increase. At UW the number of African American undergraduates went from 384 in the year when I-200 passed to 1,380 a year ago. That’s a 54.5% increase.

Now for enrollments by other students of color. The number of Asian American undergrads at WSU and UW were 73% and 63% higher in 2018 than in 1998. The numbers for Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders were up just a tick at WSU but 76% higher at UW. The change for Hispanic/Latino undergrads was an eye-opener: a 135% increase at UW, and a whopping 572% increase at WSU.

With all due respect to the author of the column promoting I-1000, it doesn’t appear that the I-200 law has kept students of color out of UW or WSU. In fact, the proportion of Caucasian students has fallen at the two institutions.

Then there’s the claim that “I-200 made it much tougher for students of color to attend college in the state they grew up in.” Yet statistics for the four regional universities – WWU, EWU, CWU and Evergreen – mirror the diversity seen at WSU and UW.

Also, I believe a large proportion of the 370,000 students at our community and technical colleges (CTCs) are homegrown. People of color account for 45% of the enrollment at the CTCs, which is disproportionate to their 31.5% share of Washington’s population. Does that suggest students of color are having a tough time getting into Washington colleges?

We’ll know soon enough what the Senate majority intends to do with I-1000. Because the I-200 law was created with a public vote, I’d argue that the public, not the Legislature, should vote on any effort to overturn it. In the meantime, it looks like student enrollments at Washington’s public colleges and universities have become more diverse – not less – since in the 20 years since I-200 became law.

(Click here for the diversity statistics)

The mugging of the taxpayers

By ericcampbell | Published on April 10, 2019

Governor Inslee recently engaged in an amazing bit of revisionist history about his role in negotiating a reduction in tax rates for Washington’s aerospace industry. Back in November 2013 he called the agreement “great news for every Washingtonian.” Now, maybe to appeal to the far-left Sanders-Sawant crowd, he compares the negotiations to being mugged.

If anyone should feel they’re being mugged, it’s the hardworking taxpayers of our state. Inslee is partly responsible for that, when he points out that the people of Washington have no choice but to provide for his personal security as he jets around the country during his “moment” (his word, not mine). He said that again Monday to reporters.

The situation reminds me of a team that is contractually obligated to continue paying a player or a coach who has been cut loose. The fans wish those dollars could instead be put toward something that would actually help the team.

Washington taxpayers are contractually obligated, through state law, to pay for the protection of the governor. That makes complete sense when he’s acting in his capacity as chief executive. However, when Inslee is traveling strictly for the purpose of seeking a new job, how does that help the people back home?

The added cost goes beyond the State Patrol, as the lieutenant governor sees his paycheck go up 70% on the days he stands in for Inslee.

I’m not looking to change the law. However, there’s also nothing in the law preventing the governor from reimbursing the taxpayers, so they don’t get fleeced. Or feel like they’re being mugged.

The ‘Taxapalooza’ continues
Inslee isn’t the only one in Olympia wanting to take from the taxpayers. Not when the Senate Democrats want more than a billion dollars’ worth of new taxes to balance their budget, and the House Democrats want more than $4 billion in new taxes.

In 2010, the Democrat majorities in the Senate and House dragged the Legislature into a month-long overtime simply because they couldn’t agree on which taxes to raise. It was an embarrassment, but at least those Democrats had a budget deficit to use as an excuse for their record-high tax hikes – even if the deficit was of their own making.

Unlike 2010, state government is in the black this year, so much that spending could increase by 14% without any changes in the tax code. And still, like tax-and-spend addicts, the Democrat majorities want more. If taxpayers have to shell out for even one day of an overtime session because Democrats have trouble choosing from their Taxapalooza of proposals, the word “mugging” won’t be strong enough.

 

The taxes are coming! The taxes are coming!

By ericcampbell | Published on March 04, 2019

I’ve never seen state government in such good financial shape when the Legislature is needing to adopt a new two-year budget. The Senate and House shouldn’t have any problem coming up with a no-new-taxes budget that is good for mental-health services, and special-education services, which seem to be at the top of the list of bipartisan priorities this year.

Instead of seizing a golden opportunity to keep tax rates stable, which can only help keep Washington’s economy humming along, the Senate’s majority Democrats have trotted out one needless tax bill after another. But now the first policy and fiscal cutoffs are behind us. There are far fewer bills competing for the attention of the public, and the news media. It’s time to raise the alarm, so the hardworking taxpayers of our state can know what the majority is up to.

Because the taxes are coming.

I’ve been through a session similar to this – positive revenue picture, full Democrat control of the lawmaking process, and a governor (Mike Lowry) who was swinging for the fences when it came to tax proposals. It was my first session, in 1993.

I recently saw a list of the taxes that were raised that year, and it was even longer than I remembered. Sales taxes were extended to certain personal services, the B&O tax went up 67% on certain services, the real estate excise tax was expanded, and more.

It was also the first of the times I’ve seen a Democrat-controlled Legislature go into overtime because the two chambers couldn’t agree on which taxes to raise, and by how much.

The Democrat “Taxapalooza” going on this year could be far worse for families and employers. Instead of a sales-tax hike, the majority is positioned to pursue the state’s first income tax. As in 1993, there’s a 67% B&O hike – which will increase taxes on service providers like veterinarians and janitors and be passed on to consumers. There is also, again, a higher REET on the table– which will drive up the cost of apartment rents and add to our housing-affordability crises.

Governor Inslee’s electricity mandate, passed by the Senate on Friday, is functionally a tax that could raise utility bills as much as $35 per month. There’s a bill on fuel standards that would amount to a 16-cent tax hike on a gallon of fuel, and the carbon tax/gas tax/property tax/auto-parts tax combo in SB 5971. There’s even a woodstove fee increase, and no one should forget the plastic-bag ban bill – also a tax in everything but name.

It doesn’t have to be this way. But the taxes are coming.

Keep the bright line between ‘legislative’ and ‘campaign’

By ericcampbell | Published on February 28, 2019

Senate Bill 5270 reminds me of the George Santayana quote about how people who don’t remember the past are doomed to repeat it. The bill, before the Rules committee, would crack open a campaign-funding door that has been closed since 1992, after a scandal that shook the Legislature to its ethical core.

For that reason and others, SB 5270 absolutely should not advance.

Last year our Secretary of State asked for legislation to move Washington’s August primary to June and the May candidate-filing period to March. The bill stalled without a committee vote. This year the chair of the Senate committee on elections came up with a bill that would go farther, moving the primary to May and the filing period to February. But unlike its 2018 counterpart, SB 5270 also would loosen political fundraising limits.

In 1992, when I won my first legislative election, the voters overwhelmingly passed Initiative 134. This followed a highly publicized investigation into the illegal use of state resources for campaign purposes, which implicated staff members in all four legislative caucuses. The Public Disclosure Commission fined each caucus $100,000, and staff members received fines ranging from $1,000 to $2,500.

I-134 didn’t completely drain the swamp. But it’s why legislators have to observe a fund-raising “freeze” while in session, so they can’t collect a campaign check at an off-campus lunch in recognition of a vote they took that morning. And why their taxpayer-funded communications are suspended while they are campaigning for re-election, so state-funded mailers don’t happen to show up in mailboxes just before ballots do.

The limits on campaign contributions, prohibition on public funding of state and local campaigns, and restrictions on certain campaign activities maintain a bright line between what’s considered “legislative” versus “campaigning.” The constraints may seem ridiculous to newer legislators in these hyper-political times, but there are still a few of us who understand the reasoning – and the value of avoiding a relapse.

The February filing period called for in SB 5270 would create a conflict between the legislative session and the fundraising freeze. The prime sponsor’s answer is to selectively relax the freeze in the event of a special legislative session.

That’s not acceptable. Imagine that the bill became law this year, then the 2020 session goes into overtime by even a day (it’s possible, as the 2007, 2010 and 2011 sessions ran long despite one-party control). Rank-and-file members of interest groups could line up that day, checks in hand, at an off-campus gathering.

Beyond that, would legislators who file for re-election have to suspend their official communications to constituents with weeks still to go in a session, to avoid being accused of using their office resources to aid their own campaign? And many lawmakers schedule town hall meetings every March. If filing moves to February, are those still seen as legislative functions – or as campaign stops?

SB 5270’s prime sponsor, is one of two Democrat senators tied to an ethics complaint I’ve filed in connection with last weekend’s use of Capitol facilities by (to quote from their website) “the state’s premier organization that recruits, trains and provides a powerful network to Democratic women who want to run for office.”

If the current ethics rules are so easily ignored, you can bet someone would exploit any openings created by SB 5270. The Senate shouldn’t enable that.