Dear Friends and Neighbors,
It’s the last week of the session, and typically, the state’s biennial budgets are the top priority. That’s because, during long sessions (105 days in odd-numbered years like 2023), it’s the Legislature’s job to draft and approve that state’s biennial operating, transportation, and capital budgets. The goal is to complete that work and deliver those plans to the governor before April 23.
But before talking about the state’s spending plans, we need to talk about taxes. I haven’t done that in any previous email updates because I believed, along with several of my legislative colleagues, that with literally billions of surplus tax dollars in state coffers, there would be no significant tax increases this year. Wrong.
The “taxman cometh!” seems to be the dominant theme during the last few days of the session. Two tax increase proposals have been introduced, one just recently, while another removes an avenue of direct-constituent input on those increases. This update discusses those bills, as well as other hot policy debates taking place in Olympia.
Ready for your next property tax bill? Senate Bill 5770 would pave the way for a sizeable increase. Snuck in just prior to the 10-day window under the state constitution’s requirement for a 2/3 vote to advance, the measure would remove the voter-approved 1% cap on property tax increases and allow annual hikes up to 3% — starting as soon as next year.
- Analysis: Ironically titled a “reform” bill, this policy has less to do with reform than it does with raiding your pocketbook. As the housing crisis continues to make headlines, it’s outrageous to sponsor tax increases that make homeownership even more difficult. Because of soaring home values, taxpayers already face higher taxes. This bill will only make matters worse. Click here to learn more.
- Current status: SB 5770 has been referred to Senate Ways and Means Committee. We expect this bill to be scheduled for a vote on the House floor later this week.
House Bill 1628 would make real estate excise taxes (REET) the highest in the U.S. Most states charge a REET of 1% or less, and several don’t charge a REET at all. Under this bill, Washington’s REET would be 4% for real estate sales of $5 million or more. The bill also adds a .25% percent excise tax for cities and counties on local sales, no matter the price.
Because the threshold is for real estate of $5 million, many assume this to be a tax on the rich. Not true. Increasing taxes on properties in this dollar range, especially in the commercial sector — apartments, duplexes, and other housing, will be passed on to those who can least afford it: low-income renters. The new tax hike will simply be included in the rent.
- Analysis: The answer to the current housing crisis is not to make it more expensive. Instead of raising taxes, we need to cut regulations and encourage housing development. This bill is not the way to go!
- Current status: HB 1628 was recently approved by the House Finance Committee. We expect this bill to be scheduled for a vote on the House floor later this week.
Supporters of removing these votes from the ballot claim it “confuses” voters with its “anti-tax” sentiment. In reality, the only thing that’s confusing is the lack of response by the Legislature to these direct-democracy tax opinions from constituents.
- Analysis: I voted “no” on doing away with tax advisory votes. Transparency and fiscal responsibility are important to Washingtonians. Tax advisory votes have consistently revealed a reluctance, if not downright resistance, to additional taxes; but rather than repealing any of these tax increases and reducing government spending, the majority party is getting rid of it — because they don’t like what voters have to say.
- Current status: SB 5082 now heads to the governor’s desk, who can choose to veto the bill or allow it to become law.
Public safety continues to be debated in Olympia. The “Blake Fix” has been in the works since the state Supreme Court’s 2021 ruling decriminalized hard drugs. This change in the law has resulted in tragic consequences in the continuing drug crisis in our state. But instead of a legislative fix, we’ve been handed a fake.
Here’s some context: Senate Bill 5536, introduced at the start of the session, was a carefully crafted bipartisan compromise that sought to classify possession of illegal drugs as a gross misdemeanor; but instead of approving that good bill, a striking amendment was approved by House Democrats that changed it. The amended version reduces the penalty to a misdemeanor.
- Analysis: I voted “no” on this bill. After the court struck down the possession of hard drugs with its Blake ruling, the Legislature promised a solution that would provide for personal accountability, help individuals, and keep our communities safe. This amended bill doesn’t do that.
- Current status: SB 5536 was approved in the House with a vote of 54-41, 3 excused. The bill now heads to the Senate for concurrence on the amended version of the bill.
Denying fundamental parental rights is the dominant theme of Senate Bill 5599. This is a terrible bill. The measure denies parental notifications for runaway children seeking or receiving protected health services when entering a youth-related facility or host home.
What the bill does: Under Senate Bill 5599, children can stay at licensed youth shelters without their parent’s knowledge for an indefinite amount of time while seeking medical treatments like gender-transitioning services and medications, including puberty “blockers” that can lead to permanent sterilization. Children — even those coming from out of state — could game the system and simply disappear by claiming they are seeking protected health services.
- Analysis: I voted “no” on this bill. Among its many flaws, this bill assumes that families not “affirming” a child’s short-term desires are abusive. That’s wrong. Loving parents guide their children through life, including not always agreeing with everything they do. This bill puts barriers between children and their parents, grandparents, and people who love them.
- Current status: SB 5599 was approved on a party-line vote of 57-39, 2 excused. The bill now heads to the Senate for a concurrence vote on the amended version of the bill.
Please contact me if you have questions about bills discussed in this update or other state-government-related public policy issues facing our region and state.
It’s an honor to serve you!