History has been just made in the Washington State Legislature!
More than six years after Governor Jay Inslee first put the idea on the table for lawmakers’ consideration, the Washington State Senate has joined the State House in giving final approval to a bill (ESSB 5096) that would at last levy a capital gains tax on the wealthy to balance Washington’s tax code and raise sorely needed funding to support our families’ childcare needs.
Levying a capital gains tax on the wealthy has long been one of the Northwest Progressive Institute’s top legislative priorities. NPI research has consistently found robust public support for levying a capital gains tax on the wealthy.
A total of 59% of likely Washington voters surveyed expressed support when we asked about levying a capital gains tax to fund education last May, with just 32% expressing opposition — fewer than the percentage expressing strong support (42%). 9% said they were not sure. (For more details, read this post.)
“I’m glad to see the Legislature pass Senate Bill 5096,” tweeted Governor Jay Inslee, adding: “This bill will help us address our upside down tax system and has been one of my priorities for years. It’s a good day in Washington State.”
The watershed vote came on the final day of the 2021 legislative session.
Twenty-five Democratic senators agreed to adopt the final version of the bill negotiated in a conference committee with the House late last week, while three Democratic senators joined all twenty-one Republicans in voting nay.
The roll call was as follows:
Capital gains tax
Senate vote on Final Passage as Recommended by Conference Committee
Yeas: 25; Nays: 24
Voting Yea: Senator Billig, Carlyle, Cleveland, Conway, Darneille, Das, Dhingra, Frockt, Hasegawa, Hunt, Keiser, Kuderer, Liias, Lovelett, Nguyen, Nobles, Pedersen, Randall, Robinson, Rolfes, Saldaña, Salomon, Stanford, Wellman, Wilson (Claire)
Voting Nay: Senator Braun, Brown, Dozier, Ericksen, Fortunato, Gildon, Hawkins, Hobbs, Holy, Honeyford, King, McCune, Mullet, Muzzall, Padden, Rivers, Schoesler, Sheldon, Short, Van De Wege, Wagoner, Warnick, Wilson (Jeff), Wilson (Lynda)
The Democratic senators who voted nay were Kevin Van De Wege of the 24th District, Mark Mullet of the 5th District, and Steve Hobbs of the 44th District.
Van De Wege was previously a supporter of the bill when it originally came up.
He traded places with Annette Cleveland, of the 49th District, who was in the no camp on the last go-around, but became an aye voter for this last and most essential vote, the final step in getting SB 5096 out of the Legislature.
Inslee first proposed levying a state capital gains tax on the wealthy in December of 2014, ahead of the 2015 long session. At the time, Republicans controlled the Senate, and they predictably refused to give the idea any consideration.
Democrats regained a working majority in the Senate nearly three years later following Manka Dhingra’s victory in the 45th Legislative District, and then expanded their majorities in both chambers in the 2018 midterms.
These elections yielded more substantive conversations about levying a capital gains tax, but still no action. The 2018, 2019, and 2020 sessions all adjourned Sine Die with no vote on a capital gains tax bill in either chamber, largely owing to the fact that not enough Senate Democrats were on board with the idea.
Then came last year’s presidential election. Though Democrats saw no net change in seats in either chamber, the composition of each caucus changed.
Crucially, in the Senate, the 28th District ceased to be represented by anti-transit Republican Steve O’Ban and instead became represented by Democratic Senator T’wina Nobles. Nobles, who hosted NPI’s 2020 FallFest last autumn, provided a crucial vote for ESSB 5096 earlier this session and did so again today, enabling the bill to secure the constitutional majority needed for passage.
Senator Nobles’ work and presence in Olympia is a testament to the difference that one person can make in our system of representative government.
Senator Nobles is a courageous and exemplary lawmaker. We cannot thank her enough for her outstanding representation of the 28th District in her inaugural session. What an impressive start to her career in public service!
Among the seventy-seven Democrats who voted for this bill, there are four in addition to Senator Nobles who deserve special recognition:
- State Representative Noel Frame, the Chair of the House Finance Committee;
- Senator June Robinson, the prime sponsor of ESSB 5096 and a vice chair of the Senate Ways & Means Committee,
- Senator Christine Rolfes, the Chair of Ways & Means,
- and Representative Tana Senn, the prime sponsor of the companion bill in the State House Representatives.
These incredible women worked tirelessly throughout the session to ensure this victory could become a reality. Their leadership and steadfastness was pivotal. We wouldn’t be here today without their efforts. We hope Cascadia Advocate readers will join us in thanking them for the time and talent they brought to this cause.
Our work is not done, of course. There is sure to be a legal challenge, although the work of defending SB 5096 in court will fall primarily to Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s office, who we have no doubt will assemble an outstanding team to give this legislation the best possible defense it could possibly have.
There may also be a challenge from the opposition in the form of an initiative to the people for 2021 or (more likely) an initiative to the legislature for 2022.
Through our Permanent Defense project, NPI has nearly two decades of experience combating right wing ballot measures. We will gladly contribute all of that experience to the coalition that forms to defeat any ballot measure that attempts to overturn this vitally important, fiscally responsible legislation.
Today, though, is a day of celebration.
Today, the legislative process worked, and yielded a bill that will finally require the wealthy in our state to pay a bit more in membership dues to support the essential public services that make our communities strong and healthy.
Onward to the bill signing!