By Evan Smith
Democratic State Sen. Maralyn Chase says that she’s proud to be the sponsor of a bill to require cities that want to absorb utility districts to put such annexations to a vote.
Such a law would prevent the city of Shoreline from absorbing the Ronald Wastewater District, which includes Shoreline and a small, unincorporated area in southwest Snohomish County.
Democrat Chris Eggen, who plans to challenge Chase in the 2014 election, is a Shoreline City councilman and deputy mayor.
Chase said Tuesday that the bill was not aimed at Eggen or at Shoreline.
Chase represents the 32nd Legislative District, including Woodway, south Edmonds and nearby unincorporated areas of southwest Snohomish County, Lynnwood, part of Mountlake Terrace, Shoreline and part of northwest Seattle.
She said Tuesday that she sponsored the bill because she feels that disputed cases should be submitted to the people for a vote.
“This issue has been before the legislature since 1971,” she said. “I have been working on it for the past 10 years and have sponsored some of these bills.”
Chase has been in the legislature since 2001, when she joined the House of Representatives by appointment before winning elections to four two-year terms in the House and one four-year term in the Senate.
Chase said that State law has no other provisions that grant such unilateral authority where neither the citizens affected nor the duly elected officials affected are included in the final decision.
“This is not democracy,” she said. “It is an example of a bad law, the kind of law people rebel against.”
She cited the bill as an example of “progressive legislation” that attempts to align public policy with democratic values of justice and fairness.
Eggen has said that he has the same progressive values as Chase but can be more effective at getting legislation passed.
Chase said she fears that cities could take over utility districts and use the fees to get income from ratepayers, who may have little ability to pay.
“Our tax system is the most regressive, unjust tax system in the United States,” she said. “But, across the state, cities are using utility taxes to meet budget shortfalls, making the regressive system more unfair to low-income people. Utility taxes are being deposited in the general funds all over the state.
“This is not about Councilmember Eggen and the City of Shoreline nor did their actions generate the bill,” she said. “They certainly do provide a good example of why we need the bill.
“There is no limit on the rate for garbage, water or sewer services owned by cities.”
She noted that letting cities tax their own water department services adds to the regressive tax system as do state business-and-occupations taxes computed on gross revenues.
She noted that people and businesses still have to pay state taxes.
“There is a distinction between ‘rates’ and ‘taxes,’” she noted. “Hold on to your wallet. I will say that at least the City of Shoreline points out on their business tax section on utilities that while there is a 6 percent state cap on telephone and cable services and the like, there is no cap on the tax rate for storm water or solid waste.
“They forgot to include water but it is included. Again, there are no restrictions on the taxes and rates for water, sewer and storm water utilities.
“The City is trying to recover the lost revenue from the retail sales from shops and businesses that are no longer here.”
The bill passed the Senate in the recent legislative session, but the House of Representatives, on the final day of the session, sent it back to the Senate Rules Committee.
Chase sits on the Senate Rules Committee and the committee on energy, environment, and she is ranking minority member of the committee on trade and economic development.
Chase and Eggen may be joined on the August primary ballot for the Senate position by Republican Robert Reedy. Candidates file in mid-May for ballot positions. The top two vote getters in the primary, regardless of party, qualify for the November general-election ballot.