Washington State Capitol in Olympia
Washington State Capitol in Olympia

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.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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