Transpo package inches ahead amid concern about funding source

Here’s what’s happening on Day 52 of the 2022 session of the Washington Legislature.

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Washington Legislature, Day 52 of 60

Everett Herald political reporter Jerry Cornfield: | @dospueblos

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OLYMPIA, March 2 — With eight days to go, legislators are churning hard with the light of Sine Die nearly visible at the end of the session tunnel.

A wrapping matter

The Democrat-crafted $16.8 billion transportation package dubbed Move Ahead emerged from the House on a 54-43 vote around 11 p.m. Tuesday. One Republican backed it, three Democrats didn’t.

A potential hitch looms.

The version passed by the Senate relied on $2 billion from a new tax on exported fuel. That ticked off the governors of neighboring states, causing Democrats in the House to have second thoughts.

The solution adopted Tuesday jettisons the tax and replaces it with annual sweeps of $100 million from the Public Works Trust Fund. That is detested by local government leaders in this state. They rely on that account for low-interest loans for cities and counties to carry out unsexy but necessary projects. Think sewer plants, water lines, etc.

Some Democrats want another source. Republicans suggest using half of the sales tax collected each year on the sale of vehicles. That money now goes into the general fund. There’s a clear nexus between buying a car and a transportation package, they argue, and it could generate as much as $12.2 billion in the next 15 years.

The GOP has pushed this approach before without success. With ample money in the budget, they have fingers crossed that Democrats might be open to the idea in the final days.

Capital gains fails first test

Opponents of the state’s capital gains tax won the opening round of their legal fight Tuesday. A Douglas County judge deemed the new tax unconstitutional, concluding in a 12-page ruling that it “is properly characterized as an income tax …rather than as an excise tax as argued by the State.”

Attorney General Bob Ferguson will appeal. That assures attorney-general-in-waiting Noah Purcell will get more chances to argue the state’s case. Eventually, the state Supreme Court will settle this score.

Tuesday’s ruling won’t affect budget writers this session because, as AP’s Rachel La Corte points out, the state isn’t counting on any revenue from the tax until next year.

Cut-off casualty

A fierce fight between nurses and their hospital employers is over. For now. A bill prescribing staffing standards and directing the Department of Labor and Industries to enforce them died in the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

Democratic Sen. June Robinson of Everett penned a last-ditch rewrite of House Bill 1868 that removed specific patient-nurse ratios, an element the Washington State Hospital Association vehemently opposed. The committee didn’t vote on her striker.

On the clock

House Democrats are running out of time to take up a bill banning the sale of large-capacity firearm magazines. It was still in House Rules Committee this morning. It is subject to the 5 p.m. Friday cut-off for policy bills.

Meanwhile, the Senate on Tuesday did approve two gun bills. One expands restrictions on the making and sale of “ghost guns.” Another bars weapons from school board meetings and voting centers.

Holy non sequitur!

Republicans keep pounding on Gov. Jay Inslee to end the emergency declaration allowing him “one-man rule,” as they call it, the past two years. With COVID-19 in retreat and mandates getting lifted, it’s time, the GOP says. He can issue a new one if things change, they argue.

Asked for a response Monday, Inslee offered to sit down and show them data to justify keeping it in place. He didn’t stop there. Nope, he veered in an interesting direction to offer a counter argument.

“They always want to follow Donald Trump. That’s the central problem here,” he said. “Republicans continue to follow him and continue to refuse to stand up to his coup attempt.”

Inslee said the declaration ensures protection for workers who don face coverings on the job after the mandate is lifted.

“Apparently Republicans don’t care about employees that want to wear their mask,” he said.

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