Residents can’t afford $8 billion in new taxes
The budget battle in the state Legislature has kicked into high gear as we now have official budget proposals from House Democrats and the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus.
Funding for basic education is at the center stage of this conflict as leaders in both legislative bodies present their priorities and plans for Washington citizens over the next two years.
While both proposals set aside ample, and nearly identical, funding for our state’s education system, the path to get to that spending level is vastly different.
The House Democrat budget proposes raising taxes by $8 billion over the next four years to spend on everything but education. They want to increase the state Business and Occupation tax, real estate excise taxes, and then create a capital gains income tax.
This last one is especially onerous as it ignores the will of the voters who have repeatedly said they don’t favor a state income tax. It also goes against our state’s ban on graduated income taxes, something an overly-aggressive state Supreme Court might now overrule if given the chance.
Even if the court were to rule against a capital gains income tax, that would then leave a huge hole in the state budget and lawmakers would be forced to come back to Olympia and find another tax to raise.
Budgeting hundreds of millions of dollars on the whims of our current state Supreme Court seems foolish at best, and downright devious at worst.
The House Democrat budget also raises overall operating budget spending to unsustainable levels. Their budget increases spending 17 percent in the next two-year budget cycle and another 15 percent in the following. This would bring the 2019-21 budget to $51 billion, a $20 billion increase in just eight years!
I wonder how many of my constituents will see a 17 percent increase in their take-home pay over the next two years.
Even with state tax collections at record highs and with nearly $3 billion in new tax revenues to work with, the House Democrat budget is a can’t-say-no approach that far outpaces the incomes of those required to pay for it.
In stark contrast to this spend-all approach stands the Senate Majority Coalition budget.
The Senate budget proposes to spend nearly identical amounts on K-12 education. It makes further investments into our mental health system, adds 1,800 higher education slots, and funds public safety.
Rather than raising $8 billion in new and increased taxes over the next four years, it reforms our state’s levy system. Every homeowner in the state would pay the same amount per assessed value, making for a much more fair and equitable system, especially for rural property owners.
This is a huge component of the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision. Without addressing this inequity in our state’s local levy system, future legislatures will be right back in the same predicament.
The Senate budget also takes a unique approach to extraordinary revenue growth, which is one-time money. Rather than use this for creating more programs or increasing the size of government, the Senate budget takes $700 million to pay down our state’s future pension liability. This investment could potentially save the state $1.5 billion over the next 10 years.
Even with this action, the Senate budget leaves over 10 times as much in the ending fund balance and nearly $2 billion in the state rainy day fund to help buffer against future economic downturns.
While there are concerns with some aspects of the Senate budget, it is by far the better choice for students, taxpayers, the most vulnerable and our economy.
(Rep. Bruce Chandler, R-Granger, is the ranking Republican on the House Appropriations Committee.)