Taxes a big factor in Legislature’s agenda

During a couple of panel discussions with legislators in Olympia on Friday as they warmed up for the start of the 2015 legislative session today, more than a few legislators found it necessary to assure reporters and the public that they’d be able to get everything on a very loaded agenda done in the 105 days they have allotted.

Good on them if they can do it, but, considering the things they’ve kicked down the road previously, we’re more concerned with what they get done than when.

On the to-do list are: fund education to a level satisfactory to the state Supreme Court; decide how it will address a class size initiative, I-1351, that it can’t afford; pass a transportation projects plan and settle on a way to fund it, adopt operating and capital budgets for the next biennium, align the medical marijuana and recreational marijuana systems and consider a host of other worthy legislation, among those, a bill that would require firearms be properly secured in homes with children. We outlined our agenda for the Legislature on Sunday.

We don’t see a lot of time left over for bills designating an official state coffee beverage or state fungus.

But in order to do much of what it wants to do — what it must do, especially in regard to education and transportation — legislators are going to have to find some common ground on taxes.

Gov. Jay Inslee’s proposals for new taxes, including a carbon tax and capital gains tax, have found no allies among the Republicans in the Senate or House, although some Republican lawmakers seem willing to talk about a gas tax increase as part of the transportation package. But it seems clear that some additional revenue will be necessary.

Legislators should have those debates. What’s actually needed is an overhaul of the state’s tax system. Washington, with its over-reliance on the sales tax, now has the most regressive tax system in the nation, forcing a heavier burden on lower-income families than higher-income families. The state might want to take a look at that liberal bastion of political thought in Idaho, where the tax system consists of a balanced portfolio of taxes on personal income, corporate income, sales and property. But that’s a project for next year when lawmakers don’t have as much in front of them.

With tax discussions already charged, the Senate should avoid one proposal by two members from Ferndale and Spokane, a rules change in the Senate that would circumvent the state Supreme Court’s ruling that overturned a requirement for a two-thirds approval of new or increased taxes in both houses. Instead of placing the requirement on final passage, the rule would require two-thirds of the Senate to approve a tax increase in a procedural vote.

The rules change proposal seeks to disingenuously side-step the spirit of the Supreme Court’s ruling and will frustrate much of the work the Legislature must accomplish, whether it gives itself 105 days or 365 days in which to do it.

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