Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Even as I write this e-newsletter to you there are some very interesting things going on over in the Senate. It looks like a few Senate Democrats have sided with Senate Republicans to take over the Senate for a few hours. Despite several parliamentary maneuvers by Senate Democrats – including having to spend several hours reading the entire 235 page read out loud (you should have seen the look on the Senate reader's face – poor guy) – the expectation is they will try and pass a more bipartisan budget authored by Republicans. I'm sure I will have more to report on this in the future (and so will my seatmate Sen. Mark Schoesler, I'm sure).
The ultimate “tax loophole”
As I briefly mentioned last week, one of the things in the House Democrat budget that has me greatly concerned is an apparent end-run around the voter-approved two-thirds vote requirement for the Legislature to raise taxes. The majority's budget makes severe cuts to local government – but then gives those local governments the councilmanic authority to raise your taxes to “buy back” those cuts. This can now be done with a SIMPLE MAJORITY VOTE at the local government level. In other words, instead of trying to make the case for a tax increase at the state level, where a two-thirds vote of the Legislature is required – they cut funding at the local level and then rely on LOCAL TAXES BEING RAISED without a vote of the people.
House Bill 2801, which is the policy legislation allowing all this to happen, is over 100 pages long. The bill report – which is usually one or two pages – is 13 pages. It's full of tax increases that local governments can impose on citizens. Here are just a few:
- 0.1 percent sales/use tax for King, Pierce, Snohomish, Clark, Thurston, Kitsap and Spokane Counties. ($86.4 million tax increase)
- 50 percent of the tax is kept by the county and the remaining 50 percent is distributed on a per capita basis to cities within the county.
- Allows a city within the above named counties to impose the tax if a county does not impose the tax by January 1, 2013.
- 0.2 percent sales/use tax for all other counties. ($56.1 million tax increase)
- 80 percent of the tax is kept by the county and the remaining 20 percent is distributed on a per capita basis to cities within the county.
- Allows a city to impose the tax if a county does not impose the tax by January 1, 2013.
- 0.5 percent sales tax on restaurants, bars, and taverns.
- 6 percent utility tax for counties. Revenue must be used for public safety, infrastructure, capital projects, and other services.
The bill also:
- Removes the voter approval requirement for the 0.1 percent sales/use tax for construction and operation of juvenile jails.
- Removes the public vote requirement to impose the 0.3 percent county sales/use tax and the 0.1 percent city sales/use tax for public safety. Six counties (Jefferson, Kittitas, Spokane, Walla Walla, Whatcom and Yakima) currently impose the tax.
- Extends flexibility to use the 0.1 percent mental health sales/use tax to counties with a population over 25,000 or cities in King and Pierce Counties for current operations for the first five years of imposition.
- Expands collection of permit fees to include “proportionate staffing, administrative, and facility costs associated with the processing of applications.”
- Authorizes cities to charge transaction fees for accepting payments by credit card, charge card, debit card, or other electronic transactions.
But again, these are just a few of the provisions in this bill. It shifts the financial burden of many programs and services to local governments – but then allows local governments to raise taxes. It's disingenuous to taxpayers and is an irresponsible way to budget. Other proposals would allow increases in car tabs and property taxes – also contrary to what voters have told us through several different initiatives.
Most of you know about the Discover Pass. Remember, this was the Legislature's attempt at raising more money to keep state parks open by charging you a daily or yearly pass to recreate on the lands that you (citizens of the state) own. Those of us who voted against this proposal warned that it would not generate anywhere near the money that was assumed. We warned that people would stop visiting parks – or visit the less frequently – if the Legislature made them pay to do so. As it turns out, we were right. So now they are adding more taxes and fees.
House Bill 2373 is the majority party's effort to overhaul their original bill. While I supported some of the amendments to the bill on the House floor in an effort to make a bad bill better, I could not support the bill in its entirety and voted against it. Here are some of the things the bill does:
- It allows the Discover Pass and Vehicle Access Pass to be transferable between two vehicles.
- It mandates that State Parks must provide 12 free access days per year, hopefully corresponding to free access days at National Parks. These looks good, but it also:
- Expands the geographic scope of the Discover Pass requirement on Department of Natural Resource lands to include all uplands managed by the agency.
- Expands the list of vehicles to which the state parks opt-o
ut donation applies. The very controversial “opt-out” provision (where you must check a box on your relicensing form to specifically “opt-out” of paying the fee) would now be applied to commercial trailers, mopeds, ORVs, and trucks and busses up to 12,000 pounds.
- Establishes a new $10 fee on all recreational vehicles. Because not everyone uses state parks, it becomes a tax for many of our citizens.
With just a few days left in the regular 60-day session, there is still much to be done. We're seeing a lot of last-minute bills that are no good. It looks they are trying to sneak a lot of bad stuff through the system at the last minute. I'll keep you posted as best I can. And hopefully, we will NOT have to go into a special session. This would be a complete failure on the part of those who control the House, Senate and the governor's mansion.
Thank you for reading my e-newsletter. Until next time…