The Ritzville Adams County Journal - Eastern Adams County's Only Independent Voice Since 1887

By State Senator Mark Schoesler
Ninth District 

Legislative Commentary: Jan. 31, 2019

 

January 31, 2019



Dear Friends,

Before the 2019 legislative session took up, Democratic leaders in the Legislature indicated that they shared our interest in addressing two major issues: improving the delivery of mental-health treatment and addressing the shortage of available (and affordable) housing. I was proud that members of our Senate Republican caucus had put good ideas on the table back in the fall, and hopeful that we could see early action on those priorities.

Two weeks into the session, my colleagues in the Senate’s Democrat majority have signaled that carbon and climate policies – the same costly, controversial issues that have Governor Inslee traveling around the country, with security officers funded by your tax dollars – may have jumped to the top of their list. Keep reading for the details.

Higher education was a common thread between many of the visitors to my office this week: WSU President Schulz and UW President Cauce; Terry Leas, president of Big Bend Community College, and BBCC trustees including Stephen McFadden of Ritzville, who also is Adams County Economic Development director; Christine Johnson, chancellor of the Community Colleges of Spokane, and board members; and Rebekah Woods, president of Columbia Basin College.

My calendar also included time with folks from Greater Spokane Incorporated; fire chiefs and commissioners from Spokane County Fire District 8, Franklin County Fire District 3 and others; Othello Mayor Shawn Logan; Val Watson, with the Lind School District, and several others representing the Public School Employees of Washington; my former legislative aide, Jesse Taylor, who became executive director of the Washington FFA Foundation this past year and came by to talk about career and technical education; Vanessa Corwin, with the non-profit Alternatives to Violence of the Palouse; and representatives of rural telephone companies in our state.

Committee appointment signals possible votes on back-handed climate taxes

At mid-week the Democratic majority interrupted all of the morning committee meetings to pull us into the Senate chamber and take a vote to fill a vacant seat on the Environment, Energy and Technology committee. Not permanently, but temporarily, until a new senator is appointed from the 40th Legislative District (in northwest Washington, to replace the Democrat who resigned abruptly right before this session began).

The temporary appointment means the EET committee has nine members of the majority to six from our side, not just an 8-6 advantage. I can think of only one reason for this move at this time: the committee chair plans to move some of the controversial carbon/climate legislation through sooner than later – like the bill to impose low-carbon fuel standards – and having one more Democratic vote on the committee can help accomplish that.

Policy committees have until February 22 to complete their first round of action on bills. That ought to be plenty of time for the majority to move on its environmental agenda, complete with back-handed climate taxes, and give Governor Inslee something to talk about as he jets across America testing the waters for a possible run at the White House. I don’t mind waiting a few weeks to have that debate; right now, as I told the Capitol press corps this week, we should be focusing on legislative responses to the mental-health and affordable-housing issues, and moving those to the governor’s desk.

As promised: my bill to prohibit a Seattle-style ‘jobs tax’

It seems so long ago now, but this past May the Seattle City Council voted to force certain large employers to pay a tax for each employee. Never mind that the city doesn’t have that kind of taxing authority – the council saw it as a “progressive” way to rustle up millions more to throw at Seattle’s already-failed efforts to deal with homelessness.

Some called it a “head tax,” but it was really a tax on jobs. Within a month, after it became clear that the tax would most likely be repealed if the voters got a crack at it, the council pulled the plug itself. At the time I promised to introduce a bill to make it crystal clear that a jobs tax is illegal (unless authorized by the Legislature, which grants taxing authority).

On Wednesday I introduced Senate Bill 5589. Back in June, three Democratic senators and a Democratic state representative told me they’d support such a ban if it came to a vote. Two Democratic senators signed on to co-sponsor my bill, and it’s been referred to the Local Government committee.

Misguided transportation proposal made worse by carbon taxes

In 2013 the Democratic-led House and Governor Inslee did their best to ram a transportation package through – but it was so heavy with Puget Sound projects and lacking in investments for eastern Washington that we wouldn’t even consider it in the Senate. A transportation proposal that is even worse, for various reasons, has been introduced in the Senate this year. It comes from the chair of the transportation committee, who made his bill the subject of a work session Thursday.

The committee chair’s legislative district includes a long stretch of U.S. Highway 2 east of Everett, infamous for a traffic chokepoint right about where the highway meets Interstate 5, and so I understand why his proposal includes a bunch of money to address that problem (and another in the area).

The trouble is that the proposal is almost exclusively about the Interstate 5 corridor – all the way south to Oregon, in the form of a replacement bridge across the Columbia from Vancouver. It’s loaded up with all sorts of other spending, in a “while we’re at it” kind of way, and loaded with lots of taxes and fees as well. Those include a straight-up 6-cent hike in the state gas tax, another 13 cents per gallon in tax via carbon fees, and much more – including a new statewide “transportation impact” fee on the construction of homes, commercial buildings and manufacturing sites.

Add in the estimated 13 cents per gallon that would come from imposing a low-carbon fuel standard and Washington drivers would be paying an additional 32 cents per gallon in state tax, if it was up to Inslee and his allies in the Legislature. As most people in eastern Washington know, a cost increase like that hits us disproportionately because of the longer distances we have to drive. No thanks.

Thanks, Christina—and slots still available for 9th District Senate pages

Christina Ward of Rosalia is the first of the students I’m sponsoring as a Senate page this year; she came over to serve this past week and did a fantastic job.

My office still has openings available for students from the 9th District to serve as Senate pages this year. The page program is open to students who are 14-16 years old, and those who participate get a week-long civics lesson they won’t find anywhere else (plus a week’s pay and time away from their regular school).

Please call or write if you have questions about the program; to apply just go online (https://app.leg.wa.gov/PageApplication/) and fill out a form!

 

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