Author Archives: ericcampbell

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My legislation to clearly make the taxing of jobs illegal would also have repealed the Seattle jobs tax.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.

Reason to worry about the balanced-budget law

By ericcampbell | Published on December 01, 2017

One-party rule returned to Olympia this week after the November general election results were certified, giving Democrats control of the Senate for 2018.

I hope this doesn’t mean the end for Washington’s unique 4-year balanced-budget law, adopted in 2012. We knew the law would protect taxpayers, but it’s also helpful to social-service organizations and other groups. They too appreciate predictability in state spending, instead of a rollercoaster ride.

Let’s see how much new spending the governor puts in his upcoming budget proposal. That may tell whether the balanced-budget law is in his sights.

* * *

Speaking of targets: Bob Ferguson hasn’t been shy about taking on the feds, to the point that several Republican senators became curious about the amount of taxpayer money involved.

One of our staffers e-mailed a member of Ferguson’s staff about it – a routine sort of thing – but didn’t get a response. I did instead, directly from Ferguson.

His 9-page letter contained more posturing (“it is unfortunate that my office has had to take so many legal actions against the Trump Administration”) than detail about the costs and fees incurred. He dismissed those as “minimal” and seemed indignant that clients (legislators) would dare inquire about how their attorney is using public resources.

Attorneys are accustomed to tracking their hours. If Ferguson would disclose how many hours have gone to what he calls a tiny fraction of his agency’s workload, I’ll decide if “minimal” is accurate.

The letter I’d prefer from the AG would assure me that his Trump fixation isn’t taking attention away from lawsuits where the state is the defendant, like McCleary. It would tell me where he stands on issues that are in our legislative arena or on the horizon, such as heroin-injection sites, and Sound Transit’s unconstitutional actions, and whether he’ll support the disclosure of the names of people with concealed-carry permits.

* * *

Dino Rossi had agreed to succeed the late Andy Hill only until a new 45th District senator was elected. He sure made the most of his one session, taking on Sound Transit and supporting our state parks. Of course, the governor bushwhacked what would have been Senator Rossi’s finest achievement this year – the manufacturing-tax reforms that won strong bipartisan support in the Legislature. I’ll miss his friendship and formidable legislative skills, but I suspect he’s not through serving his east King County neighbors and our state.

 

‘I just wanted to express myself’

By ericcampbell | Published on August 24, 2017

This must have been the week for calls from people who were transferred to my Senate office by “robo-calls”.

One wave of callers seemed to be prompted by a robo-call about money for state lands and public-recreation projects. The funding is in the proposed capital budget, which should be approved soon after we agree on a permanent remedy to the restrictions on water access stemming from the Hirst decision.

Those callers included one who told my staff that a proper Hirst fix is more important than money for recreation areas. I’ll bet his response (which used much stronger language) is not what the robo-call promoters had in mind.

The robo-calls went beyond the capital budget, because a caller named Jay left this message:

“I just got a…I think it was a robo-call…asking me to contact this office to encourage the legislator to do all the things that are [audible sigh] important to protecting our resources and taking care of our people and managing the budget in a way that prevents the kind of destruction that Donald Trump seems to want to foment on us innocent people. Anyhow, I don’t need a call back, I just wanted to express myself. Thank you.”

Obviously, Jay is no fan of the president. But he said his piece in a courteous, calm, almost bored voice – no shouting, no spewing. What a contrast to the ranting and criminal behavior that so many choose these days to express their views, like the disgusting rhetoric and acts of violence from racists who descend on places like Charlottesville to push their offensive ideas.

If Jay had left his number, I could have called and explained some of the major accomplishments the Legislature has racked up since (and because) our coalition began leading the Senate in 2013. There’s no question that we have done much to protect resources (especially taxpayer resources), look after the needs of Washington residents and manage budget after budget in a productive way.

Having a politically divided Legislature has made for some contentious, drawn-out sessions, but I’d invite Jay and others to compare our record to the other Washington. It’s encouraging.

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.