Republican state Senators Doug Ericksen, John Braun and Mark Schoesler react to Governor Jay Inslee’s COVID restrictions on KOMO TV
Republican state Senators Doug Ericksen, John Braun and Mark Schoesler react to Governor Jay Inslee’s COVID restrictions on KOMO TV
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
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
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 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.
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.
Wearing a T-shirt with an image of a prominent Nazi war criminal might be enough to get a student sent home. But the Washington Association of School Administrators thinks it is OK to share public-relations advice from a prominent Nazi war criminal if you’re trying to get school administrators to be effective advocates.
The Washington Policy Center’s Liv Finne recently noted how a WASA slideshow titled “Who’s Telling Your Story?” included a quote from Joseph Goebbels, complete with photo. There was also a quote and photo from another famous humanitarian, Vladimir Lenin.
To be fair, Aristotle and George Bernard Shaw also had their own slides. But the ancient Greek philosopher and Nobel laureate were ahead of a half-dozen slides filled with quotes from the League of Education Voters, Freedom Foundation, Democrats for Education Reform, Stand for Children, the Washington Roundtable/Partnership for Learning, and Finne herself.
Goebbels and Lenin, and their observations about what happens when a lie is told often enough, followed the quotes from the various education-reform groups. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist – or a school administrator – to connect the dots.
WASA has reason to demean the groups quoted in the slideshow. They are reformers, and WASA represents the status quo. But come on.
The WASA lobbyist who posted the slideshow wasn’t foolish enough to give the Goebbels-Lenin treatment to things our Senate majority has said about our Education Equality Act – even though that legislation is all about reforming the K-12 funding system, and therefore opposed by those who are desperate to keep the status quo.
Still, WASA finds ways to take a swing at us. Like when we brought the House Democrats’ tax package (the largest tax increase in state history) before the Senate budget committee for a hearing on April 26, in the form of a Senate bill. The WASA lobbyist was right there to testify in support. Two days before, in a report to WASA members, he had described the upcoming hearing as “gamesmanship.”
Gamesmanship? This from an organization that took part in the campaign about the so-called “levy cliff.” And don’t forget the administrators (Seattle School District and elsewhere) who have eye-popping compensation packages ($354,000 in salary and benefits, in Seattle) in districts that have seen huge jumps in funding, and still plead poverty.
And people wonder why education-funding reform has been such a tough nut to crack.
Legislators leave office for a variety of reasons, and the when and how of their exits generally dictates our options for saying farewell. Sometimes an announcement comes during a session, which allows us to respond in person; otherwise it happens later in the year, and that opportunity is lost. We learned during the 2016 session that a few members of our Majority Coalition Caucus would not be with us in 2017, and that number doubled after the Legislature adjourned. Each of them deserves a public tip of the hat.
Thanks to them all!
My former Senate colleague, Ed Murray, made a dire prediction ahead of the formation of our Senate Majority Coalition Caucus four years ago. In an interview with TVW, the now-Seattle mayor predicted that if two Democrats (Senator Tim Sheldon and former Senator Rodney Tom) joined with the Senate’s Republican members to form a new Senate majority, it would “poison the atmosphere” for years to come.
Clark County was still counting ballots when Senator Murray, the new leader of the Senate Democrats, offered his forecast. Because then-Rep. Barbara Bailey of Oak Harbor had just prevailed over a longtime Democrat incumbent to become senator for north Puget Sound’s 10th Legislative District, a victory by Senator Don Benton of Vancouver in the 17th District would mean 23 Republicans in the Senate and make a Sheldon-Tom-Republicans philosophical majority possible. For Ed to spin that scenario as he did – warning that chaos would result, and a bipartisan majority would be too unstable to lead – was completely predictable for someone in his awkward position. It also was completely wrong.
Senator Benton won his fifth term in a very close race, Senators Sheldon and Tom opted to align with us, and on Dec. 10 of that year we announced the creation of the MCC. The only poisoned atmosphere I remember was at the governor’s inaugural ball in January 2013 – specifically, the hissing from Democrats when Rodney (rather than Ed Murray) was introduced as the new Senate majority leader.
The MCC’s political “tent” instantly became the largest at the Capitol, and growing pains were inevitable. But chaos and instability? Maybe in other corners of the lawmaking process, but not in our coalition. I expected the MCC would serve at least as a counterbalance to our Democratic governor and the Democratic majority in the House; in hindsight, as our record of accomplishments shows, we have done so much more. Washington’s students, families and employers have had no better friend in Olympia these past four years.
As we move into our fifth year tomorrow, the MCC’s priorities remain true to our founding principles. Those include providing for a world-class education system; creating a job-rich, employer-friendly economy; serving Washington’s most vulnerable residents while being mindful of the needs of middle-income families; and an approach to budgeting that lives within the means provided by taxpayers. In short, we’re about protecting Washington’s future.
Happy anniversary, MCC!