Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Tough legislative session ahead

One week from today, the Washington legislature will convene for its second recession-year legislative session. They will have just sixty days to solve state problems arising from the turbulent economic year. What can we expect to see from Olympia?

The central order of business will be the arduous task of filling a $2.6 billion budget hole. Will state services like education, health care for the poor and clean water programs get tossed into the hole or will it be filled, at least partially, with new sources of revenue? Based on Governor Gregoire’s supplemental budget proposal, there will be huge cuts to services and programs to the tune of $1.6 billion. This amount is on top of the $3.5 billion in cuts made to public services last year.

According to Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown:
We already eliminated waste, froze salaries, made layoffs, transferred funds and made cuts to programs that aren’t considered essential. Now we’re getting down to basic services. And, while last year we could make high-impact cuts by, for example, not funding I-728 for smaller classroom sizes ($600 million) or cutting enrollments at our universities ($557 million), this year we don’t have those kinds of big increments available to us.
The governor plans to introduce a second budget this month that will rescue $700 million in cuts by raising revenue, probably by increasing the state sales tax.

Eliminating tax exemptions is still on the table. Last year, Tim Eyman’s Initiative 960 made canceling non-performing tax breaks politically impossible by requiring a legislative super majority vote to do so. Achieving a super majority would have required a bipartisan effort and Republicans weren’t willing to take a hard look at the impact of these loopholes. This year, I-960 can be modified with only a simple majority of the legislature, giving Democratic lawmakers less of an excuse not to examine tax breaks.

Gregoire’s proposed budget hits education hard. It makes cuts to preschool, kindergarten, and teacher professional development, and it increases class sizes. Education advocates like the Washington State PTA and the League of Education Voters will fight to protect these programs while also looking to the long-term. They will be pressing lawmakers for progress in implementing last session’s landmark education reform bill, HB 2261. Early education for at-risk children was stripped out of the final bill and ed advocates want it back in.

Environmental groups will fight to maintain the state’s commitment to protecting our environment. They will also promote the Safe Baby Bottle Act which would phase out the chemical bisphenol A from many consumer products, including baby bottles. Their Working for Clean Water bill aims “to create jobs by cleaning up polluted waterways.”

Labor will be keeping a close eye on Democrats’ performance on labor issues. After Democrats weaseled out on its top legislative priority last year, the Worker Privacy Act, the Washington State Labor Council made waves when it announced that it is forming a new political action committee in order to have more control over whose legislative campaigns it supports. Dems weak on labor issues can’t count on labor dollars this year.

It looks like the budget will dominate every moment of the session. It’s too bad that advocacy groups will be fighting to maintain the status quo, which is already a painful $3.6 billion reduction in state services from the previous biennium. The newest cuts proposed by the governor will make last year’s painful cuts look generous by comparison.


Blogger Ben said...

State Need Grants and Work Study are also on the table. They must be preserved! Financial aid is the only thing that makes rising tuition (rising because of previous budget cuts) palatable!

January 4, 2010 7:44 PM  
Blogger Sarajane46th said...

Advocates should be loud and assertive about the need to raise revenues. The Governor has said she would raise only $700 million of the deficit, about one-third in revenues, and balance the rest with cuts to essential services. The King County Democrats take the position that we should raise two-thirds in revenues and cut one-third in services. The amount of the revenue goal will determine what kind of revenues are considered. It will be less painful to vote for a few large taxes than many small ones.

The Governor has said she wants to address tax breaks. We suggest the legislature start with the largest non-performing tax break. That would be Boeing's 2003 $3.2 billion (over 20 years) for promising 1,200 additional jobs. Instead, last year alone they laid off over 10,000.
The Seattle Times on Sunday Jan. 4th ran a nice article about other states rescinding their nonperforming tax breaks and demanding refunds, or "clawbacks." We want to see that here, too. We don't appreciate being played for fools.

Extending the sales tax to all services, not just professional services, would do the most to fill the deficit gap. It would also be a progressive tax, since low-income people tend to hire few lawyers, accountants and financial advisers. I'll bet most moderate-income people would prefer to pay sales tax on haircuts, rather than see 65,000 people lose Basic Health plans. Time for a poll?

Legislators should use this crisis as an opportunity to take needed steps toward an income tax for high-earners, couples making over $500,000. This 1% tax would be constitutional if Washington law defined income as different from property. Sens. Adam Kline and Rosa Franklin's SJB 8205
addresses this and should be given an early hearing.

Most of all, Democrats should take courage, and note that Seattle passed the Seattle Housing Levy in a time of economic downturn by its biggest margin ever. Trust the voters to know that you're doing the right thing.

January 5, 2010 7:16 AM  

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