Author Archives: ericcampbell

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.

 

 

 

 

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: