Author Archives: ericcampbell

House Democrats tip their hand on Hirst

By ericcampbell | Published on July 28, 2017

With two days to go in the Legislature’s third overtime session, I thought we had a good shot at wrapping things up on a positive note.

Senate and House negotiators had verbally agreed on a final capital budget, and House Democrats had received another offer that would permanently solve the situation caused by the Hirst court case. They were going to share it with their “stakeholders” and get back to us the next morning.

The answer wasn’t just a no. House Democrats (and the governor’s office) responded by cranking up the PR machine behind the verbal agreement on the new capital budget and a rehashed proposal to delay a permanent Hirst solution.

The overtime’s final chance at approving a Hirst-capital budget combo came a day later, on the evening of July 20. House Democrats didn’t take it. Despite claiming on their website that “fighting for working families” and “building a Washington that works for everyone” are among their values, they literally fled from the Capitol rather than vote on legislation to help working families build.

While 28 Republican and Democrat senators have supported the Senate’s solution four times, the House has yet to vote on a Hirst bill. Not even the proposals to delay a proper fix.

That’s a consistent slap in the face to the families in all 39 counties who can’t build because of Hirst, the local lenders and construction workers and others involved in the homebuilding industry, and the local governments that benefit from construction activity.

Why?

According to the Everett Herald, Democrats say they want to protect existing water rights held by municipalities, farmers and tribes. Yet the Association of Washington Cities, the Washington State Association of Counties and the Washington State Farm Bureau clearly favor the Senate’s position.

In the course of rejecting every alternative extended their way, House Democrats finally showed enough of their cards to reveal the answer.

Water is required for development. But according to Senator Judy Warnick, our lead Hirst negotiator, Democrats want special interests to be able to dictate if water can be used – and thus if development may occur – in Washington.

As much as House Democrats and editorial writers might want to minimize the Hirst situation, it clearly goes beyond the ability of families to build homes in places where wells are the only available source of water. As the state association of counties put it, “the Senate would not agree to give away a state authority or obligation to another entity or sovereign government.”

Our state still needs a permanent Hirst fix and a new capital budget. Senator Warnick is still talking with one of the House Democrats. At least there’s no more mystery about who is on which side.

Some parting thoughts with the Capitol in the rearview mirror

By ericcampbell | Published on July 21, 2017

The speaker of the House is known for holing up in his office, and as the 2017 legislative session fizzled to a strange end yesterday, the news media took note of that more than usual. One journalist reported how Speaker Frank Chopp hadn’t spoken with reporters all week about the two things that I hoped could be addressed before we adjourned: the Supreme Court’s Hirst decision, and a capital budget for 2017-19. Another reporter joked to me that if Speaker Chopp came out of his office and saw his shadow, there would be another 30-day “special” session.

A Hirst remedy and a new capital budget are both important to families and communities around our state, for different reasons. Democrat leaders in the House had prolonged the Hirst situation for months by refusing to bring the Senate’s bipartisan remedy to a vote, and by doing so, they knowingly delayed approval of a capital budget.

Then, after House Republicans found a way to force a vote on a Hirst fix yesterday afternoon, House Democrats simply walked out of their chamber, allowing the session clock to simply run out. When confronted with taking a hard vote, their response was to turn and run.

I’m still open to returning to Olympia to look at a full capital budget, if the Hirst situation can be settled in a way that keeps decision-making authority where it belongs. In the meantime, as I hit the road toward my family and farm in Adams County, a few things come to mind.

  • As this week showed, divided government is frustrating. But the same divided Legislature managed full funding of K-12 education without the new state income tax, or carbon tax, or big tax increases on employers that many Democrats wanted. Also, we left a record amount of money in reserve, knowing revenue collections probably won’t maintain their current pace. Speaking of the treasury, it’s worth noting that despite the cost of three overtimes, the Senate still returned more than $800,000 from its 2015-17 appropriation.
  • This week the governor kept speaking of public-sector jobs associated with a new capital budget. A state-employee labor union sent an e-mail claiming hundreds of union members would be laid off without a capital budget. The governor’s budget-office website acknowledges the carry-forward capital budget passed by the Legislature “does not include funding for a few hundred employees across state government.” I’d like to know just how many public employees are being paid using capital-budget dollars, which are tied to bonds, when they should be paid from the operating budget.
  • In April a group of senators that included Senator Honeyford, Senator Miloscia, and me raised concerns about the appearance of the grounds around the Legislative Building. They were so shabby that as a Washington resident, I was embarrassed that visitors from around the state and around the globe were not seeing our Capitol at its best. As a legislator, I wanted to know why the Department of Enterprise Services had allowed the upkeep to slip. While we caught some flak from social media and the news media, it seems the message was received. DES had blamed a cut in the groundskeeping budget, but even though the new budget doesn’t include more groundskeeping money, the agency appears to be catching up. Let’s see next time I’m back whether things are looking as they should.

 

Work continues, but what a day June 30 was

By ericcampbell | Published on July 01, 2017

The drive home to Adams County today gave me time to reflect on the magnitude of what the Legislature accomplished yesterday. It was something.

A new operating budget is always a heavy lift by itself, but the 2017-19 budget had to dovetail with the school-funding reforms that represented five years of collective effort (more for Senate Republicans, who had worked on this since 2010).

Because the two pieces of legislation are so closely linked, the Senate and House had to bring them along in tandem, meaning we voted on one bill while the House voted on the other. But it all came together without a major hitch.

The 2017-19 budget doesn’t rely on the new taxes or tax increases many Democrats wanted. No tax on the personal income from capital gains, no “carbon tax,” no 20-percent hike in taxes on most employers, no change in the real-estate tax. And yet the budget received 39 “yes” votes in the 49-member Senate – one more than the 2015-17 budget did.

Governor Inslee also didn’t seem to mind that the taxes he wanted weren’t included. The statement he issued after signing the new budget last night was full of praise for what it supports and the cooperation that produced it.

I didn’t come to Olympia this year expecting we could offer tax relief to a segment of our state’s employers – heck, I just wanted to shield them from higher taxes. But there we were yesterday, voting to reduce the B&O tax on manufacturing to match the lower rate set for the aerospace industry several years ago.

The new budget allowed for the change, but we needed to put the policy in place as well. I look forward to telling small manufacturers in Clarkston and Kettle Falls and other corners of our state that their B&O tax is now the same as Boeing’s. That’s huge.

Unfortunately, the past 24 hours weren’t all sweetness and light. The good-faith negotiating with the House that produced an operating budget, a McCleary solution and even a paid family leave bill still seems lacking when it comes to a fix for the Supreme Court’s Hirst decision.

The governor gets the linkage between a Hirst fix and a new capital budget, but where I will be this coming Wednesday – at the farm, or at the Capitol – depends on whether the House figures it out too. I hope they do.

A generational solution that puts students, hard-working taxpayers first

By ericcampbell | Published on June 30, 2017

I’m reminded today how more than seven years ago, a group of Republican senators proposed a way to significantly increase state funding for public schools and in turn take the pressure off local school districts to come up with money for basic education.

I was a co-sponsor of that landmark plan, introduced by former Senator Joe Zarelli. It would have simultaneously reduced the local-levy authority of all school districts by approximately half and increased the state property-tax levy by an equivalent amount.

The idea, as my former colleague explained it at the time, was to give school districts a more dependable and more equitable funding source while reducing property taxes for a majority of school-district taxpayers.

Olympia was under full Democrat control in 2010. Our bill got what amounted to a courtesy hearing and vote from the Senate’s K-12 education committee, but that was it.

By the time our Majority Coalition Caucus took over leadership of the Senate in 2013, the Supreme Court had already ruled in the McCleary case. Outside forces also had mobilized against the idea of what they disparaged as a “levy swap,” even though it was the most constitutionally sound approach.

The new budget and education-funding plan being voted on by the Senate and House today certainly reflect the spirit of that original Senate Republican proposal. But for students and hard-working taxpayers across our state, the 2017 approach is a good piece ahead of the 2010 proposal.

To start with, more school districts will see an increase in funding. And by simultaneously increasing the state property tax for schools by 81 cents while capping local school levy rates at $1.50 (the local-levy average across Washington for 2016 is $2.54), more property owners will see tax relief.

Better yet, today’s legislation surpasses what Republicans offered in 2010 because it ties funding to the needs of students, instead of adults. While that has attracted strong labor-union opposition, there is much for teachers to like – even if they don’t want to say it publicly.

Lately I’ve been referring to the McCleary situation as a generational issue, because of how the inequities in the public-school system crept in over decades. It’s too bad that Republican efforts to head off the situation in 2010 couldn’t gain traction. But seven years later, I’m glad we finally have a generational solution at hand.

 

Former governor Spellman on education: Constitution, conscience, and common sense

By ericcampbell | Published on June 22, 2017

John Spellman honored me with a visit yesterday. It’s been a while since our previous time together, but Washington’s 18th governor, at age 90, is as sharp and inquisitive as I remembered.

In 12 years as King County executive and four years as governor, he accomplished much, as his “Legacy Washington” story explains. However, the former Republican chief executive doesn’t get enough credit (with Republicans who led both legislative chambers then) for supporting public schools. More than half the state’s general-fund spending went to public schools in 1981-83, during the first half of his term. That level hasn’t been reached since (although it should be in the new state budget).

Governor Spellman took office during the post-Jimmy Carter, post-Dixy Lee Ray economic downturn. When a predicted recovery didn’t materialize that summer, legislative overtimes and spending cuts and tax increases followed to keep the 1981-83 budget afloat.

As his December 1982 budget message to legislators put it, “special efforts were made throughout that budget process to protect the common schools.” With an eloquence that’s rare these days, his message continued in a way that reads much like our Senate majority’s priorities:

“Foremost among our priorities is our commitment to education. Our constitution, our consciences, and our common sense make that commitment not only necessary but right. Our other obligations are equally compelling: to support those in need or those unable to care for themselves; to protect the public through effective law enforcement and corrections programs; and, to promote a fair, stable and adequate tax structure. Establishing these priorities and meeting these obligations will require our working together and the cooperation and support of the people.”

His 1983-85 “budget for hard times and the few more lean years to come” allowed public-school spending to slip below a 50% share. The Democratic governors and Democrat-controlled legislatures who followed didn’t reverse that after the economy rebounded. Things got worse instead. In 2005-07, despite record-setting revenue growth, funding for the state’s paramount duty sank to a dozen points below Spellman’s first biennium. It’s no coincidence that the McCleary lawsuit was filed in 2007.

Washington students have no better ally in Olympia than our Republican-led Senate majority. We’ve reversed the Democrat trend and restored K-12 education to its rightful place in the budget. I enjoyed telling the former governor that I expect to reach or exceed the “Spellman standard” in the 2017-19 budget.

Budget talks continue…and so does the spin

By ericcampbell | Published on June 12, 2017

The former FBI director spoke last week about the challenge posed by media coverage of sensitive topics involving classified information. Because officials who know the details aren’t inclined to talk to reporters, he told a Senate committee, they have to “leave it” when reports are off-target.

Budget negotiations in Olympia (which have been going since April) don’t involve classified information. But spending is a sensitive topic, so here too, those with the details tend to avoid sharing them publicly.

Unfortunately, special-interest disinformation fills the void – along with pure political spin. Just last week a new Democratic senator accused our Senate majority of “my way or the highway” negotiating. Being in the minority, she might not know we and the House majority have exchanged several offers. Still, that’s no defense.

Some claims, like these in a recent news report, can be addressed without upsetting negotiations:

Claim: House Democrats want to “radically overhaul” the state’s business-and-occupation taxes. Our Senate Majority Coalition Caucus doesn’t.
Fact: Democrats want to raise business-and-occupation taxes by 20% on service-oriented businesses such as daycares. And it’s true, we don’t.

Claim: Democrats want to close several tax breaks. We don’t.
Fact: Democrats want to close several tax incentives that help create jobs. We’re open to evaluating tax preferences that don’t create jobs.

Claim: We want to overhaul the state property-tax system, which would “significantly” increase those taxes on Puget Sound residents.
Fact: The MCC property-tax overhaul addresses the Supreme Court’s constitutional concerns about education funding. The flat tax rate we propose statewide happens to be less than what 83% of property owners in Washington are paying now. While the flat rate represents an increase in some school districts, it’s also fair. And every school district would receive more funding. Also, as a whole, King County property owners would save with our plan compared to the mix of tax changes House Democrats want.

Claim: We would ignore most new tentative contracts negotiated with state employees in 2016.
Fact: What we want is legislative oversight concerning those tentative contracts. We’d also prioritize raises for underpaid state employees.

The claim that we see the Democrats’ proposed capital-gains tax as a “business-killing Trojan Horse for a state income tax” sounds about right. Just ask Connecticut.

Contrary to the disinformation, our side is actively negotiating. Others may gain from pushing Olympia to the brink of a shutdown, but not us.

The state’s ‘commitment to tolerance’ gets a test at Evergreen

By ericcampbell | Published on May 31, 2017

Jerry Kulm graduated from Ritzville High School in 1967, the same year legislators in Olympia decided to create what would be the first four-year college in southwest Washington. He died serving in the 101st Airborne in Vietnam in 1970, a year before classes began at that new institution – The Evergreen State College, here in Olympia. Apparently a Vietnam war protest even accompanied the school’s dedication.

I didn’t know Jerry Kulm, but I spoke of him Monday morning at the Memorial Day observance at the Ritzville Memorial Cemetery, organized by our local American Legion post. He and many others from my hometown were laid to rest there after making the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our nation and the freedoms we hold dear, including the freedom of speech.

It seems free speech is in danger at Evergreen these days – if a professor feels safer teaching class in a public park because the campus police won’t, by order of the TESC president, shield him from angry students. Students who are angry because the professor had the nerve to oppose a race-related event and, of all things, wrote about the right to speak freely on a college campus.

Understandably, many of us serving in the Legislature take a dim view of all this. But even if we adopted legislation tomorrow to end public financing of Evergreen, it wouldn’t address the immediate professor-safety concern.

How about this: while the professor considers a “hostile workplace” complaint against the Evergreen administration for failing to ensure his safety on campus, the governor could make the short trip over to the Evergreen campus and have a sit-down with the angry students. Explain how the freedom-of-speech thing works both ways, and the value of listening to and learning from voices of dissent (other than their own), and take along a copy of his February 23 executive order that reaffirms “Washington’s commitment to tolerance, diversity and inclusiveness.”

I realize that order was focused on undocumented immigrants, but don’t the civil rights of a public-college professor deserve the state’s protection just as much?

Don’t be taken in by the spin – legislators are negotiating

By ericcampbell | Published on May 22, 2017

Democrat lawmakers still are trying to convince anyone within earshot that our Senate majority is boycotting negotiations toward a new operating budget.

For instance, the Senate’s minority-caucus chair recently wrote that Democrats are “ready to sit down at the table.” Right after accusing our Senate majority of employing “alternative facts.”

A few days earlier the House finance-committee chair had written that Democrats are “ready to negotiate.” Right after accusing our Senate majority of “political games.”

The House finance chair’s words came a full 10 days after members of the Senate and House majorities and minorities began formal negotiations about education funding. She is one of the negotiators. And surely the Senate minority-caucus chair knew his colleagues are involved.

So who’s employing alternative facts and playing political games?

Talks have taken place six times a week for the past four weeks. Our Senate budget leader is one of those negotiating. The focus is on court-directed reforms of the broken education-funding system, and on the K-12 part of the state budget. Those factors will drive the rest of the budget process. They need attention first.

The Democrat spin says we’re refusing to talk. The truth is that we’re just not talking the way Democrats want. They insist on engaging in full-scale budget negotiations without first voting on the big taxes they’ve proposed, which include a new tax on personal income and a tax hike on many Washington employers.

We have no interest in putting our balanced budget proposal up against a House plan built on “ghost dollars” – meaning revenue from new taxes that are only assumed. We didn’t try that when negotiating the Connecting Washington transportation package with the House in 2015; the Senate took the necessary tax vote first. The Senate has already taken a tax vote this year, also, as part of the Education Equality Act we passed on Feb. 1.

While K-12 negotiators meet, Democrats have time to transform what is now an underfunded wish list into a proper, balanced plan capable of passing in the House. If they fear that their big new taxes won’t fly with the folks back home, they are welcome to adopt our fair and equitable approach to funding public schools.

Either way, the sooner House Democrats put a legitimate budget on the table alongside the Senate’s complete plan, the sooner we can complete our work.

Busting the Democrats’ myth about ‘Connecting Washington’

By ericcampbell | Published on May 18, 2017

All year long Democrat lawmakers have mentioned the “Connecting Washington” transportation package of 2015 when talking about reaching major agreements this year.

For the longest time that didn’t make sense. There wouldn’t have been a 2015 package if Democrats hadn’t fumbled the first try in 2013. Why keep bringing it up?

Now it’s clear. Democrats seem to think that with Connecting Washington 2015, the Senate and House negotiated the projects and costs before agreeing on funding sources.

I can guess why they’d prefer that story line, but it’s fiction.

The first Connecting Washington package showed how not to get big legislation through Olympia. House Democrats proposed it in February 2013. But it took two tries to pass a revenue bill and show they were serious. By then it was June 27, with only two days left in our second special session, and we weren’t about to rush the House proposal through the Senate.

When the Senate took the lead on Connecting Washington in 2015, we didn’t strike a deal before voting on revenue, contrary to the House Democrats’ version of history. We didn’t drag our feet on a revenue vote as House Democrats had in 2013. Our revenue bill was through committee and off the Senate floor in two weeks, by March 2. That left plenty of negotiating time.

It’s true the Senate and House both voted on the revenue part in late June, but it was the House’s only vote. The Senate voted again because our March 2 vote no longer counted in that third special session.

The fact that the Senate passed a revenue bill long before both sides reached a deal, and a House revenue vote, busts the Democrats’ myth about how Connecting Washington happened.

Still, it was a landmark agreement that offers lessons in governing. For one, don’t tie spending proposals to tax increases if you’re not willing to vote on them. We took the Connecting Washington revenue vote before hashing out details of the package, so it’s fair to expect the same from House Democrats this year. If they’re serious about their revenue bills, they need to vote.

Connecting Washington also showed, to paraphrase the late Senator Andy Hill, that taxes can receive support in Olympia when they are the last resort. But the taxes House Democrats are proposing now are far from a last resort. The Senate budget proposal is proof.

House majority plan would have King County property owners pay more

By ericcampbell | Published on 

My Democratic counterparts in the House criticize how our Senate majority’s education-funding reforms, and the budget proposal which supports them, would keep property taxes as the primary source of support for schools.

They claim a property tax “is indiscriminate, hitting rich and poor people alike – and disproportionately hitting certain districts, especially in the Puget Sound region.”

What House Democrats don’t talk about is how our plan is better for King County property owners than what they’re proposing.

House majority leaders would not only allow local school districts to tax their property owners at a higher rate. They also would do away with the 1% cap on the growth of local-government property taxes (imposed by voters in 2001, then by legislators in 2007). We figure the net effect is a savings of about 25 cents per $1,000 APV under our approach. In King County that can add up pretty fast.

The same Democratic leaders claim our state’s tax system is “upside down,” in part because Washington doesn’t tax personal income (something they want to change). But what’s really upside down is the school-levy system. Since 2011 the amount of money collected through local school levies has exceeded what’s coming in from the state common-school levy, and that gap continues to widen.

The state Supreme Court has found the K-12 funding system to be unconstitutional on two occasions (1978 and 2012) and both rulings came a year after local-levy collections moved ahead of what the state levy generated. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Whose plan would remedy the situation? Not the House majority’s.

So, to recap: House Democrats are OK with the “indiscriminate” property tax when it suits them, on top of the tax proposals they won’t bring to a vote (a discriminatory new tax on personal income and a 20% tax hike on most employers, including day cares). They’re OK with allowing school districts to rely more on local levies, even if that “disproportionately” hits most households in districts where property values are lower.

No thanks. Washington students, families and employers would be better off with our Senate majority’s uniform, stable, reliable, and constitutional approach – the only progressive and equitable plan on the table.