From Calley Hair
The Democrats won one victory after another over the course of this year’s 105-day legislature as majority party’s lawmakers avoided incremental changes in favor of far-reaching, long-awaited goals.
Just before the April 25 session ended, progressive lawmakers ran key priorities through both Houses and on Governor Jay Inslee’s desk. Her list of policy achievements includes a new capital gains tax, two carbon emissions bills, and a $ 59.2 billion operating budget that pumps resources into government education and health systems.
Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver, said the productivity of the year was due in part to a lack of distraction. In the face of a session slowed by the remote format, she and her colleagues were instructed to keep their attention narrow: pandemic recovery, equity and environmental justice were at the center. Invoices that were outside these limits were not taken into account.
“We have asked our members to limit the number of bills they introduce to around seven and make sure they focus on those things,” said Stonier, who served as Democratic chairman during the session. “I think that really helped us filter our attention and think strategically about these things.”
Legislators also passed a bill to increase police accountability, including legislation setting up a nationwide bureau to investigate incidents of violence and a bill requiring officers to intervene if they witness a colleague using excessive force.
Two main strategies to reduce CO2 emissions, a cap-and-trade program and a low-carbon fuel standard, were adopted in both chambers shortly before the end of the session. However, in order to pass the legislative package, lawmakers will have to pass a 16-year plan for transport revenues, which lawmakers say will have to be included in a special session later this spring.
Republicans feel “steamrolled”
Democrats could describe the session – the first legislative term held almost entirely by video conference as COVID-19 stalled normal business in Olympia – as extremely fruitful.
But while some measures were passed with bilateral support, many Republicans would use a different description: “Steam rolling”.
“There were some bills that were just on greased runners and there was nothing we could do,” said Ann Rivers, chairwoman of the Senate Republican Caucus, R-La Center. “Overall, it was disappointing in many ways when I think of the meeting.”
The approach is particularly daunting, added Rivers, as Washington is resource-efficient. Despite dire warnings at the start of the pandemic that the state would face a budget deficit of $ 8.8 billion, tax revenues combined with government aid are in an ideal position to cut existing regressive taxes, she said.
“Especially this year with $ 15 billion in profit, why shouldn’t we take another way of doing this?” Rivers asked.
The legislature had set itself the goal of creating invoices to correct the tax structure of Washington, which is one of the most regressive in the country due to its heavy reliance on sales taxes. The first step, a new tax on capital gains, was passed despite unified opposition from Republicans.
The bill imposes a tax on the sale of certain assets of wealthy people, including stocks, bonds, and luxury items like cars and art. Income from sales greater than $ 250,000 will be taxed at 7 percent. The sale of homes, farms, and retirement accounts such as Roth IRAs and 401 (k) s are exempt.
Senator Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, was one of the few Democrats who originally spoke out against the capital gains tax, claiming the bill could remove political will to pass other measures to increase revenue for infrastructure projects this year.
Cleveland voted against Senate Bill 5096 when it went down for the first time. But when it returned to the chamber with house inspections, she changed her stance. Your changed voice could have been the deciding factor: The tax bill went through the chamber, 25-24.
If Inslee signs the bill, the tax will go into effect in 2022. It is expected to raise $ 550 million in 2023. The proceeds will go to the Education Legacy Trust Account in Washington, which will fund childcare and early intervention programs.
“If you look at the data, there are fewer than 150 people in the 49th Legislative District who would be affected,” Cleveland said, speaking of her own district in west Vancouver. “There’s a huge investment in every dollar we spend on early learning, and that’s what capital gains tax is primarily about.”
It’s also pretty much guaranteed that the tax will be challenged in court. Opponents view it as a version of an income tax that is against the state’s constitution. Republican lawmakers have also feared the tax will deter wealthy Washington residents from taking root and creating jobs.
“The people this bill will ultimately affect are the very people who worked hard, were smart about their investments, picked up the good American dream, the free market economy here in America, and made it work,” said Rep. Vicki Kraft, R-Vancouver, said during the bill’s floor debate. “Why should we punish them for that?”
The second step towards a more progressive tax structure found almost unanimous support on both sides of the aisle.
A bill to extend the tax exemption for working families went through Senate 47-2 and House 93-3. It was a slam dunk – and an opportunity for Republicans to exert influence as a minority party, Rivers said.
“By including it in our budget, we forced the Democrats to include it in their budget,” said Rivers.
The program was launched in 2008 but not funded (a victim of the Great Recession and later the battle for school funding after the McCleary case, Rivers said). It is designed to offset the state’s sales tax, which disproportionately affects people on lower incomes.
As of 2023, Washington state will return an estimated $ 250 million in payments to 420,000 taxpayers, ranging from $ 300 to $ 1,200 depending on household size and income levels.
Environment and traffic
The Democrats also passed two bills to curb carbon emissions and increase revenue for clean energy transition.
The first, an emissions cap and trading program, would limit emissions from companies that produce greenhouse gases. You have to stay below a certain carbon pollution threshold or buy allowances from the state Department of Environment. This upper limit would decrease over time. The same bill increases the state’s gas tax by 5 cents per gallon on top of the existing tax of 67.8 cents.
The other law sets a low carbon fuel standard. The aim is to motivate energy companies like BP to produce cleaner fuel sources for cars, trucks, boats and planes over time.
The twin bills have a restriction. They’re tied to a comprehensive 16-year plan for transportation revenue that didn’t pass. The legislature was running out of time.
“I am disappointed that we are looking at this scenario,” said Stonier. “I don’t think it is compatible with our legislative practice to link things like that together.”
Democrats were able to pass a wide range of bills at that session to increase police accountability.
While most were partisan, some received bipartisan support from Republicans in southwest Washington. A bill to improve data collection on law enforcement was passed with the unanimous support of the region’s lawmakers.
Rivers and Rep. Paul Harris, chairman of the minority caucus, have crossed party lines to support a bill requiring police officers to intervene if they witness a peer using excessive force. Senator Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, supported a bill that provides a process for the selection of arbitrators in negotiations with police unions.
Wylie sponsored two important bills that made it to Inslee’s desk: a bill that banned neck supports, chokeholds, and arrest warrants, and a bill that set rules for the use of force and de-escalation tactics by officials.
“Many of the color communities wanted their leaders to be front and center. That is why I have taken a large part of my instructions from people who deal with the situation on site. I have friends who have had some very uncomfortable experiences here in Vancouver. We were driven by data, ”said Wylie. “We have a pattern of disproportionate effects and behaviors that fail the test of common sense. … We had a real problem, and to deny it is to be naive. “
Police reform legislation, enacted and passed in the last 105 days, also includes draft law to establish a nationwide independent investigation bureau to investigate incidents of police violence, including shootings.