Author Archives: ericcampbell

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.

 

 

 

 

Inslee misses deadline for releasing real budget – and why that budget is the real story

By ericcampbell | Published on December 21, 2018

The orcas won’t want to hear this, but the $54 billion budget Governor Inslee brought out last week is not the proposal he was required to submit to the Legislature.

Under a state law dating to at least 1959, the governor is to provide a budget document based on “the estimated revenues and caseloads as approved by the economic and revenue forecast council and caseload forecast council or upon the estimated revenues and caseloads of the office of financial management for those funds, accounts, sources, and programs for which the forecast councils do not prepare an official forecast.”

In short, Inslee is to submit a no-new-taxes budget. It’s known informally as the “Book 1” budget. The law allows the governor to also submit a proposal that reflects “revenue sources derived from proposed changes in existing statutes” – as in new or higher taxes. This purely optional “Book 2” budget is what Inslee unveiled December 13.

Under a 1973 law, also part of the state code on budgeting, the Book 1 budget is due no later than December 20. I am told it was finally posted online today (apparently buried somewhere on the fiscal.wa.gov website). Is anyone in the governor’s office aware that failing to meet the deadline is a misdemeanor?

Inslee also took an under-the-radar approach to releasing his Book 1 budget in 2017. At the time, a member of the Capitol press corps explained to me in so many words that a Book 1 budget wouldn’t be relevant anyway, because Inslee wasn’t pushing it publicly. The perception was that Inslee’s real priorities – the stuff worth reporting – were in that year’s Book 2.

News flash: Inslee’s real priorities are in the Book 1 budget. It shows what goes in the budget box and what doesn’t when revenue is limited. That’s much more than a formality. It’s also very different from a Book 2, which is like making a shopping list, then compiling a list of new taxes to cover it.

The Book 1 budget tells the orcas whether they still get $1.1 billion even if Inslee can’t include revenue from a state income tax. Or, without revenue from raising the B&O tax, where Inslee cuts to protect funding for the new collective-bargaining agreements. If a budget is a “statement about what we value,” as Inslee once said, then comparing his Book 2 and Book 1 will reveal something about his values. To me, that’s newsworthy.

As a fiscal conservative who sees no need to raise taxes for 2019-21, because a whopping $50 billion is forecast to be on hand, I’m interested in seeing Inslee’s no-new-taxes budget. It might have some actual value to legislative budget writers, unlike a Book 2 wish list that hinges on tax votes that may not happen.

Did someone think keeping Inslee’s Book 1 budget under wraps until the Friday before Christmas, despite the legal deadline, would minimize the attention it will get? That’s even more reason for the news media (and taxpayers) to take interest.

When it comes to taxes and spending, is Inslee insatiable?

By ericcampbell | Published on December 14, 2018

Governor Inslee had included tax increases in all six budgets he’d submitted to the Legislature during his time in office. I figured he was a lock to make it 7-for-7, in the proposal he’d be putting on the table for 2019.

Even so, I was amazed by what the governor unveiled yesterday. He’d spend $54 billion over the next two years – up $10 billion, or 22 percent, from the current budget cycle. He wants to tax personal income for the first time, plus a 67 percent tax hike on more than 175,000 employers who provide services, from health care to janitorial. He’d also set property owners up for more than double the local-education taxes they’re paying now.

The governor’s budget is so over the top that words like “staggering” still can’t capture its magnitude. Inslee has outdone himself this time, to the point of seeming downright insatiable when it comes to taxes and spending.

State government is expecting to collect $50 billion in revenue over the next two years. That’s $4 billion-plus over the current budget cycle. We have more billions in reserve than ever. Yet somehow, it’s still not enough. Besides all the naturally occurring revenue plus revenue from the huge tax increases, the governor wants to tap the reserves for another $1 billion.

I don’t know why Inslee thinks a state income tax would be constitutional. And speaking of the constitution, the Legislature just got through bringing the state’s K-12 funding system back into constitutional compliance. Why does Inslee want to undo that progress by going back to the local-education levy rate that encouraged the growth of educational inequities across Washington, and helped lead to the McCleary lawsuit in the first place?

On top of that, the K-12 reforms we adopted in 2017 are still kicking in, and they’ll lower the majority of 2019 property-tax bills across the state. If Inslee wants to discard the bipartisan levy cap we’d put on school districts, he’d better be ready to accept credit for the huge property-tax increases that are sure to follow.

It’s been more a month since Republican senators stepped forward with ideas about affordable housing/homelessness, and even longer since we shared an agenda about improving mental-health treatment. I appreciate that the governor’s budget also addresses those topics, although this is more a case of having common ground on the “what” but not the “how.”

The Legislature is free to ignore Inslee’s budget. But with Democrats controlling both the state Senate and House for only the second time during his years in the mansion, and with larger majorities than 2018, look for it to serve as a cue card instead.

 

Robust packages of Republican ideas

By ericcampbell | Published on November 30, 2018

Way back on October 3, three of my fellow Republican senators publicly announced a package of ideas for improving how state government approaches mental-health treatment.

On Wednesday, the Senate’s Democrat majority announced the creation of a policy subcommittee on behavioral health.

On November 13, three of my fellow Republican senators publicly announced a package of ideas for addressing the intertwined issues of affordable housing and homelessness.

Two weeks later, also this past Wednesday, the Senate’s Democrat majority announced the creation of a policy committee on housing stability and affordability.

Is it coincidence that Democrats came up with new committees which mirror Republican proposals? Maybe, maybe not. Either way, the changes surely were meant to send a signal, and we applaud it.

So with the 2019 session about six weeks away, Democrats appear to be agreeing with Republicans that mental-health treatment and the tandem of affordable housing and homelessness are major priorities. But with Republican ideas already on the table (packages that are “robust,” as a TVW program host recently said to me), what proposals will Democrats put forth, and when?

I’ve been a legislator long enough to recognize that Democrats in Olympia often see “more money” as the primary solution to major issues, while Republicans prefer solutions that include money but also policy changes that put dollars to better use. After all, it wasn’t the House Democrats who loaded up the 2015 “Connecting Washington” transportation package with cost-stretching reforms to go with the new revenue. And we might be farther down the road to McCleary 2.0 if (besides approving more funding) our Republican-led majority coalition had not insisted on overhauling the school levy-related policies that were central to the original McCleary ruling in 2012.

Unlike K-12, there isn’t a constitutional hammer when it comes to mental health and housing/homelessness. Still, these are complicated issues with vocal interests on all sides. And obviously, “more money” hasn’t helped – look at the hundreds of millions spent in King County alone on addressing homelessness, with no significant progress. That’s why Republicans are ready to look at policies that affect the supply of housing, like the Growth Management Act, because of how supply affects affordability.

I can hear it now: you just want to use homelessness as an excuse to dismantle the GMA. No, we just recognize that the GMA, which has changed little since its creation in 1990, couldn’t anticipate things like Amazon.com and the steady migration of people into the Puget Sound area. We’re not talking about the Ten Commandments, or something in Washington’s constitution. The GMA is a law, and it can and should be brought into the 21st century.

I suspect the positions are less entrenched when it comes to mental-health treatment. That said, the loss of $53 million in federal funding – annually, due to Governor Inslee’s inability to oversee the operation of Western State Hospital – couldn’t have come at a worse time. Imagine having that much money to use for supporting policy improvements, instead of diverting it to backfill a funding hole.

I look forward to seeing the ideas my Democrat colleagues have to offer.

You can watch the respective news conferences below.

Addressing Mental Health:

Housing Affordability and Homelessness:

Repeal of Seattle jobs tax makes a statewide ban simpler

By ericcampbell | Published on June 12, 2018

The rapid demise of the Seattle jobs tax doesn’t change the need for the bill I’d drafted that would clearly prohibit a tax on jobs (or a “head tax”) unless the necessary taxing authority is explicitly granted by the Legislature.

My bill is still needed because the Seattle City Council’s turnaround was not due to concerns about the tax’s illegality. Far from it, seeing how the mayor and seven councilmembers maintained that the tax “struck the right balance” a day before they reversed course. I guess the state constitution doesn’t count in defining balance.

Instead of a legality question, the tipping point was apparently the prediction of a “prolonged, expensive political fight.” Meaning the referendum that was likely headed to Seattle voters, and the campaigns that would form on the pro and con sides.

My legislation to clearly make the taxing of jobs illegal would also have repealed the Seattle jobs tax. The council’s reversal takes that angle out of the debate and simplifies the question. Three Democrat senators and a Democrat state representative have said they’ll support my no-jobs-tax bill if allowed to vote on it. Add just one more House Democrat and we should have constitutional majorities in both chambers of the Legislature in favor of protecting Washington jobs. I’m hopeful the council’s about-face will inspire a Democrat lawmaker serving a district within Seattle to be that final vote.

The council did the right thing, belatedly, by stopping the jobs tax before it could start. But I was disappointed that the mayor and majority of councilmembers clearly intend to drag the Legislature into the Seattle homelessness debate, judging from the closing sentences of the announcement they made Monday: “The state and region must be full partners and contribute to the solutions, including working for progressive revenue sources. Seattle taxpayers cannot continue to shoulder the majority of costs, and impacts.”

The costs and impacts being shouldered by Seattle taxpayers wouldn’t be so large if fundamental management tools like fiscal accountability and performance measures weren’t foreign concepts at City Hall. The mayor and council members will have a tough time convincing the state, meaning the Legislature, to be a full partner with a city government that has botched its management of the homelessness situation in about every way possible.

And trust me, state legislators from Seattle have repeatedly sponsored legislation to create what they would call “progressive revenue sources.” But after seeing the mayor and the council beat a hasty retreat from their jobs tax, they may be less inclined to pursue a new state income tax or job-killing energy tax that would make them and their party mighty unpopular across our state.

A state law that clearly prohibits a jobs tax couldn’t help but motivate governments in Seattle and elsewhere to make better use of the money they already collect. And I can’t think of anything the mayor and the council can say or do which would be more helpful than what the Legislature could accomplish by taking the jobs tax completely off the table. It’s the surest way to reverse the damage to Seattle’s reputation as a place to do business, and restore trust with employers.

 

The appearance of impartiality, and chasing the golden geese

By ericcampbell | Published on April 26, 2018

— April 26, 2018

Suppose some proud member of Cougar Nation tweeted a photo of a guy on stage at a WSU football rally the night before the Apple Cup game. Then someone recognized the person as being not only a Pac-12 referee, but part of the crew that would be officiating at the WSU-UW game.

Imagine the howls from Huskies about how the “fix was in,” and so on.

Along that line, Senator Michael Baumgartner has called on a Supreme Court justice to recuse herself from a case coming before the court next month.

The Tacoma teachers’ union tweeted a photo of Justice Mary Yu appearing at a Washington Education Association political gathering this past Saturday, in Senator Baumgartner’s hometown of Spokane. I don’t know if she said something that led to the “OMG OMG OMG” in the tweet. But there’s no question that Justice Yu, from Seattle, not only made a special effort to attend the rally but knowingly went on stage before an organization that will soon make arguments before her in the latest offensive against Washington’s charter schools.

Justice Yu claims she attended the rally to get teachers to invite judges into K-12 schools to teach about the legal system. Apparently we’re to believe her invite could not be conveyed just as effectively through the state’s office of public instruction, or through the WEA communications network – it needed to be delivered in person, despite the charter-school case being on the docket for May 17.

The Washington Policy Center report on Justice Yu’s attendance had me remembering how, early in my legislative career, former Justice Richard Sanders got in hot water after making brief remarks at a rally on the Capitol steps. That event was primarily about promoting legislation and certain beliefs, and the sponsor had no case pending before the high court. Even so, the Commission on Judicial Conduct (CJC) reprimanded Justice Sanders and ordered him to complete a judicial-ethics course.

Any legislator could have spoken at that event, then crossed the street to speak at a union political rally, without fear of a formal reprimand. That’s because legislators aren’t expected to be impartial. Most everything we do means taking a public position one way or the other.

But when the CJC decision against Justice Sanders was reversed on appeal, almost exactly 20 years ago, the ruling explicitly stated “a Justice of the State Supreme Court, as any judge, is required to maintain the appearance of impartiality.”

Having supported the legislation that is keeping public charter schools open (and in the WEA’s crosshairs), I want to trust that the judges who hear the case next month are impartial. Unfortunately, the legislative branch can’t ensure judicial integrity and impartiality any more than we can ensure a football game is officiated fairly. That ball is in the judicial branch’s court.

* * *

It’s ridiculous to claim that Seattle’s large employers have created the city’s homelessness situation. Not when someone can parachute in (like from a state where marijuana is illegal), pitch a tent downtown and – just like that – add another one to the “homeless” count.

But some city council members remain determined to chase the golden geese away with their proposed “head tax,” even though (as I pointed out in the Puget Sound Business Journal and in a Seattle radio interview) the city lacks explicit legal authority to levy such a tax.

I’ve vowed to make sure legislation is introduced in 2019 to definitively prohibit local governments from taxing on a per-employee basis. But there’s a flip side: If Democrats are controlling both chambers of the Legislature in 2019, they could enact legislation giving local governments the legal authority to impose a per-employee tax. And if the donkey gets its nose under the edge of that taxing tent, look out: as advocates for the homelessness sector demand more, the threshold for imposing the tax could drop.

 

Toward an honest conversation about preventing suicide

By ericcampbell | Published on February 12, 2018

— February 12, 2018

As someone who values our Second Amendment rights I am very cautious about bills that include the words “firearm rights” in the title. But a few weeks ago I helped pass a carefully negotiated bill that would allow people to voluntarily waive their firearm rights in the interests of preventing suicide (their own). I think that legislation has more potential to protect lives than any ban on bumpstocks.

This past week I helped pass another bill intended to reduce suicides. It’s Senate Bill 6514, from my fellow southeast Washington colleague, Senator Sharon Brown of Kennewick. As someone who’s more interested in the quality of the bills we pass than the quantity, I see this as one of the more important pieces of legislation we can put through during this short session.

This bipartisan legislation would promote a comprehensive approach to suicide prevention and behavioral health at our colleges and universities, with enhanced services for students who are veterans. The Department of Health and Student Achievement Council would be the state agencies involved.

The goal is to enhance mental-health services on campus. Also, the state Institute for Public Policy would be tasked with conducting a study on academic stress in higher-education settings.

Senator Brown’s legislation stems from the findings of a 2016 task force. It’s coincidence that she introduced her bill just six days after the suicide of WSU quarterback Tyler Hilinski. But that young man’s death certainly put a bigger spotlight on the issues this bill wants to address.

I don’t know if there’s more academic stress or financial stress or social stress on college students than there was in my day. Probably all of the above. Either way, as the task force’s report put it, no student should feel that suicide is the only option.

Senator Brown hopes her bill, which passed unanimously, leads to an “honest conversation” about this issue. She hopes it will help identify the causes of on-campus suicide and provide resources for intervention and prevention. She wants every student dealing with stress, and every veteran on campus suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, to be able to reach out for help. So do I.

The ‘Olympia Games’: Quantity doesn’t mean quality

By ericcampbell | Published on February 07, 2018

I’m not a big watcher of the winter Olympic Games, which are upon us again, but I do know that most of the events are scored or judged in terms of more points and less time elapsed.

Here at the winter Olympia Games, the Senate’s new majority hopes to score points by saying it has accomplished more in less time than our Republican-led Senate majority did last year. Last week my counterpart in the Senate Democratic Caucus told reporters how “30 bills in 19 days is unprecedented,” meaning the legislation her side had already pushed through the Senate.

“More” is important to a lot of Democrats. More taxes. More spending. More government. More regulation. That’s obvious from the bills they’ve introduced or supported. Take the so-called “essential health coverage” bill passed by the Senate majority this afternoon; the name hides how it’s aimed at imposing, at the state level, one of the worst features of Obamacare.

Personally, I’d prefer more jobs and more infrastructure over more labor-union conscription of people caring for family members (Senate Bill 6199, better known as the “most disingenuous and cynical bill in Olympia”). A reporter asked yesterday for my reaction to how the new Senate majority is celebrating the number of the bills passed early on. I replied that our side is more concerned with quality over quantity – and when we propose policies, we make sure there is a way to pay for them also.

(click on the image)

Maybe 30 bills through the Senate in 19 days is unprecedented. That by itself is no compliment. The massive tax package the Democrats passed in 2010, when they also had full control of Olympia, was unprecedented. The shape-shifting energy-tax proposal that has already been declared part of this session’s budget package is unprecedented.

The number of bills passed in the Senate so far is less meaningful than how many of those bills check boxes on special-interest wish lists. If the leader of the Senate Democrats wants to call attention to something, why not highlight her side’s quick action on legislation welcomed by those in the liberal donor class? They’ve been holding IOUs since 2012.

Speaking of quantity, the majority pushed 79 bills through Senate Ways and Means in 11 hours yesterday, just to make them eligible for full Senate votes in the coming week. They include even more measures that Bernie Sanders would love (free college for a 2.0 GPA!).

Let the games continue.

Sure, Inslee’s energy tax would change the climate. But which climate?

By ericcampbell | Published on January 25, 2018

— Jan. 25, 2018

Governor Inslee jetted off this week to the Swiss Alps, to talk about the climate. It was interesting how he described the energy tax he wants to impose on the folks back home – what he called “America’s first carbon tax.”

Inslee’s energy tax would undoubtedly change the climate. Meaning the business climate across Washington. And the financial climate in countless Washington households. But there’s no guarantee it would change any other climate.

When Inslee brought up SB 6203 today, he glossed right over how the $20/ton tax he wants on carbon emissions will make a whole lot of prices go up. Start with 20 cents more for a gallon of gas (a 40% increase in state taxes on fuel) but no road improvements in exchange. Higher heating and cooling and electricity bills for employers and households. Higher costs for manufacturers who can’t avoid emitting carbon through their industrial processes. Higher charging costs for electric vehicles. Basically, anything that involves road travel or a power line or fuel will cost more.

The governor also didn’t volunteer how the energy tax amounts to him doubling down against our state’s non-aerospace manufacturers. First he vetoed the manufacturing tax-fairness bill that passed with such solid bipartisan support in 2017, and now this. (The manufacturing-tax change was just reintroduced as SB 6542.)

Also, Inslee didn’t tell the Davos crowd how his proposal would hit lower- and middle-income families harder. Why are so many in the “progressive” (liberal) wing of the Senate Democrats sponsoring such a regressive tax as legislation?

The pitch in the governor’s state-of-the-state speech noted how British Columbia and California have “carbon pricing,” and Oregon is considering it, so “we would simply join our West Coast neighbors.” That reminds me how parents ask children whether they’d jump off a bridge just because their friends did.

Inslee’s energy tax may get style points in Switzerland. But the harm it would do to our state’s business and household climates is, to paraphrase an old movie line, a heck of a price to pay for being stylish.

So far the only carbon-reduction bill to come out of either legislative chamber was passed by the Republican-led Senate in 2015, and the reason is simple. It was (and still is) a smarter approach that would give employers new incentive to move toward clean energy, instead of beating them with the tax-and-fee stick. And without sticking it to families who don’t care about the governor’s aspirations.