Author Archives: ericcampbell

Braun says Boeing 787 decision should be incentive for lawmakers to increase support for manufacturing

By ericcampbell | Published on October 01, 2020

OLYMPIA… Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, Republican leader on the Senate Ways and Means Committee, offered this reaction to The Boeing Company’s decision to shift Washington-based work on its 787 jetliner to South Carolina:

“Washington has been incredibly fortunate to have Boeing as its largest employer. Of course we all would have preferred for this move to be in our state’s favor, knowing what it will mean for so many families and communities and other employers – and for the state budget. At the same time, no one should be slamming the company for making what is obviously a business decision. The COVID-19 pandemic and government restrictions related to it have been the last straw for many businesses across Washington, not just Boeing.

“While our state is still the aerospace capital of the world, I do not want to sit by and watch this sector of our economy fall into decline the way non-aerospace manufacturing has during this century. No matter what else our state has to offer, the cost of doing business is ultimately the key to keeping employers and attracting new ones. Had we succeeded in lowering the tax rate on non-aerospace manufacturing a few years ago, it would have saved Boeing a big tax headache as well, and today’s decision might not have happened.

“This should give the Legislature incentive to take bold steps now to promote a brighter future for all manufacturing in Washington. Eliminating the manufacturing B&O tax would do much to secure the future of aerospace in our state and also provide a huge boost to all the other manufacturers who are trying to survive the economic fallout from the pandemic. That would be a smart move for the Legislature, and we should take it.”

 

New revenue forecast highlights continued threat to critical public services, need for special legislative session

By ericcampbell | Published on September 23, 2020

OLYMPIA… Six months after most of Washington’s economy was shut down due to COVID-19, the state Economic and Revenue Forecast Council has received 2020’s third-quarter forecast of state-government revenues. Today’s update reduces the deficit projected in the June 2020 forecast but leaves legislators on track to still deal with a $3.9 billion deficit.

Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, a member of the forecast council and Republican leader on the Senate Ways and Means Committee, offered this statement:

“While the state’s economy is in a better place now than it was during the second quarter, that’s little consolation for the employers who are still stifled by a restart plan that occasionally lurches forward but generally seems to be in a holding pattern. Unfortunately, many businesses can’t afford to wait any longer and are making the difficult decision to close permanently. The Legislature is in a similar position, if we are to protect the services that are critical to our state’s most vulnerable residents. We should be meeting in a special session right now, to reprioritize spending and put the budget on a better course for the nine months left in the biennium. The longer those decisions are put off, the more difficult they become. It’s long past time for anyone to be counting on help from the federal government.

“As if there isn’t enough incentive for a special session already, we could see a lot more pressure on the budget very soon. Besides the significant costs associated with what is already a near-record wildfire situation, there is the possibility that Boeing may announce plans to move all production of its 787 jetliner out of state. Those two factors make it even more imperative to get a special session scheduled so we can get to work while there is still time to do some good.”

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

By ericcampbell | Published on June 17, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Republican lawmakers call for emergency legislative session in June

By ericcampbell | Published on May 21, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By ericcampbell | Published on April 24, 2020

— April 24, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

The short answer is no.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By ericcampbell | Published on March 02, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The $30 million marbled murrelet tax

By ericcampbell | Published on December 06, 2019

— December 6, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mark Schoesler, Senate Republican Leader

Inslee blows the call on taxpayer-subsidized security

By ericcampbell | Published on July 03, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler

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

By ericcampbell | Published on April 27, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Click here for the diversity statistics)

The mugging of the taxpayers

By ericcampbell | Published on April 10, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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