Having reached agreement on the specifics of an operating budget, transportation package, and plan for delaying implementation of last year’s initiative to lower class size, the Washington State Legislature today adjourned its third special session sine die, with exhausted lawmakers and legislative staff breathing a sigh of relief.
The Legislature began its 2015 session a few weeks after the winter solstice, in early January. It is wrapping up for the year — theoretically, anyway — a few weeks after the summer solstice, with July a third of the way over.
It took a whole extra season just for the Legislature to do what it usually does… traverse the lowest road towards a budget that balances on paper.
Governor Jay Inslee released a statement expressing satisfaction with lawmakers’ work, but lamenting that it took so long to reach a deal.
“This is a darn good budget for Washington that is sustainable, responsible and fair,” Inslee said in a statement sent to NPI. “Our economy is rebounding and so is our ability to invest in the people and programs that have made Washington the most innovative, forward-looking state in the nation.”
We have to ask: If Washington is so innovative and forward-looking, why are we still clinging to the most regressive tax system in the nation?
For as long as NPI has existed, this has been a bear of a problem, and the Legislature has done next to nothing about it. Another long (no, make that super-long) session has come and gone, and we’re still without any comprehensive, meaningful tax reform. When is this going to be a priority?
Divided government makes getting things done harder, no doubt, but Democrats had supermajorities in both chambers of the Legislature a few years ago and didn’t get it done then. In fact, they had an excellent opportunity to pursue tax reform when the Supreme Court struck down Tim Eyman’s I‑747.
But, at the behest of Chris Gregoire, they inexcusably chose to simply reinstate I‑747 instead of replacing it with real progressive tax reform. As a result, I‑747 continues to slowly choke the life out of our counties and cities.
And there’s no relief in sight.
Meanwhile, we have a state budget that books a lot of revenue from taxes on marijuana that aren’t likely to materialize, and the threat of Tim Eyman’s hostage-taking I‑1366 on the ballot later this year.
Governor Inslee and House Democrats deserve credit for proposing a capital gains tax this session. But they took that proposal off the table too early in the final round negotiations with Senate Republicans. Even the notoriously anti-tax Seattle Times editorial board showed its Jekyll personality for a change and embraced the idea. Still, it wasn’t part of the deal struck over the operating budget. And it should have been. At least then, the Legislature would have demonstrated it is capable of taking a step towards making our tax system more progressive.
Inslee acknowledged the Legislature didn’t get as much done as it should have.
“There are many issues that legislators still need to tackle, and over the coming months, there will be many conversations about our next steps,” he said. “Issues such as minimum wage and climate change are heavy lifts for a divided legislature, yet they are vital to ensuring our long-term economic health and quality of life. We came close on several of these, and I want to see us finish the job.”
Next year’s regular session will be of the shorter, sixty-day variety, and will take place in a presidential election year. We will be encouraging the progressive community to start making preparations to put its priorities — an increase in the minimum wage, a plan to put a price on pollution, and creation of a capital gains tax — on the ballot. We should do this to put pressure on Senate Republicans to fold, and to ensure that voters have the opportunity to move Washington forward in 2016 if they don’t.