Op-Ed: A taxing legislative session
I'm often asked, “How did it go in Olympia this year?” I've been telling folks, “Very disappointing.”
When state lawmakers arrived in Olympia in January, they faced rising unemployment and a budget shortfall of $2.8 billion. My greatest disappointments with the 60-day regular session, and the 30-day special session called so majority party Democrats could finalize their budget and tax plans, were their failures to solve these serious problems.
So, what happened?
Early in the regular session, two vastly different approaches to confront these problems emerged. The first approach, supported by the majority party, sought a budget plan reliant on new tax increases, uncertain federal funding, one-time transfers from dedicated accounts, and draining state reserves. This approach finally prevailed after three months of Democratic infighting on what taxes to raise, and by how much.
An alternative set of solutions, which I supported, started from the principle that private-sector job creation could drive economic recovery and ensure the sustainability of important state programs. I led my House Republican colleagues in proposing a “Made in Washington” jobs plans that would have helped employers of all sizes create jobs through: real regulatory relief; state health care reforms; and clean, low-cost energy policies. A small group of us met with the governor prior to the regular session to discuss our plan.
Unfortunately, nearly all of these solutions were rejected by the majority party. You can learn more about our solutions at:
I also joined all House Republicans in opposing the suspension of Initiative 960, the Taxpayer Protection Act of 2007, which required a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to raise taxes. We stood in bipartisan opposition on the measure to overturn I-960, but it narrowly passed both chambers and was signed into law.
When the Taxpayer Protection Act was overturned, it signaled the beginning of new tax increases and a disregard for the will of the people. These $2.5 billion in new tax increases over the next three years will hurt individuals, families and small businesses. You can learn more about them at: https://houserepublicans.wa.gov/files/media/file/FinalDTaxAgreement.pdf
We could have avoided new tax increases by prioritizing state government to focus on education, public safety and corrections, and protection of our most vulnerable citizens, and also reforming our budget process. As people and employers adjust in these tough economic times, the same should be expected of their state government. House Republicans put forward solutions to prioritize state government and find cost savings through:
- privatizing state liquor stores;
- transforming the state's Basic Health Plan;
- eliminating the state Department of Printing;
- breaking up the state monopoly on workers' compensation insurance; and
- reforming our one-of-kind General Assistance Unemployable program.
We also put forward common-sense reforms that would bring accountability, transparency and sustainability to the budget by:
- establishing a state spending limit;
- requiring the Legislature to adopt a balanced budget;
- depositing surplus revenue in the state “rainy-day fund” during good economic times; and
- prohibiting the governor or the Legislature from proposing an operating budget deemed unsustainable.
All of these solutions, and others to prioritize state government and reform the budget process, were rejected.
In closing, please know your citizens' Legislature does not lack the comprehensive solutions that would put our state on a path to prosperity; it simply does not have the political balance and leadership needed to allow them to move forward. I say this not to be partisan, but to offer optimism for the future. If we can end “business as usual” in Olympia, we can get people back to work, ensure fiscal responsibility and ease tax burdens on Washingtonians.
State Rep. Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, represents the 39th Legislative District, and also serves as chairman of the Washington House Republican Caucus. He can be contacted at (360) 786-7967 or e-mail him and sign up for his e-newsletter at: houserepublicans.wa.gov/Kristiansen. His office address is: P.O. Box 40600, Olympia, WA 98504-0600.