by Senator Adam Kline (Democrat, 37th District)
As the legislative session heads into its final two weeks, it seems we’re poised on the eve of a serious battle over the core missions of state government, and its costs. Our two houses have unveiled their budget proposals, and both make brutal and unprecedented cuts in the core services: K-12 education, healthcare, social services, higher education, and environmental protection.
As the severity of these cuts becomes clear to those members of the general public who are paying attention, legislators are braced for an equally unprecedented reaction. Last week, 8,000 labor union men and women came to tell us, loud and clear, to close tax loopholes that favor the wealthy so we can write a real budget that aids the rest of us, educates our kids, cares for our seniors and infirm, gets us back to work, and protects our environment.
The dozen most progressive Senators were not surprised—just happy. We need help from outside Olympia because we’re not the majority. Here’s a list of five bills we’ve co-sponsored jointly, to cut just some of the 480 tax-preferences:
- SB 5944: a referendum to the voters, removing the closure of tax loopholes from the definition of “raising taxes” under Tim Eyman’s Initiative 1053, so we can do it by simple majority.
- SB 5945: reduces every B&O tax-preference by 25%; also repeals entirely the B&O breaks for investment income of non-financial firms and for mortgage interest earned by banks. Total value: $338 million in the coming two-year budget cycle.
- SB 5946: a “state Sarbanes-Oxley,” requiring corporate officers to sign the tax returns and undertake personal liability for under-reporting, whether of the corporation’s sales or use tax, B&O tax, property or public utility tax, or other excise taxes. Estimated value: $15 million.
- SB 5947: repeal two agricultural exemptions: artificial insemination of livestock, and the lining and heating of chicken-coops. Estimated value: $2.5 million.
- SB 5932: repeals the B&O tax exemption on membership initiation fees for all businesses other than non-profits. Estimated value: $4.5 million, directed to DSHS for hearing aids and eyeglasses for low-income patients.
As I mentioned in an earlier column, there is zero chance of the Legislature itself enacting any of these latter four tax increases, whether a new tax or the closure of loopholes, so long as we are governed by Initiative 1053. Republicans are more than one-third of each house, and by locking up against any such bill can easily prevent the needed two-thirds majority.
Instead, the battle will be over a referendum to the voters, which the legislature can send out on a simple majority vote. There may be a second referendum, actually closing some of the more egregious loopholes and using the revenues to fund some of those services that need immediate financing or that are the most popular with the voters.
To pass on the ballot, the referendum(s) will need the full and active support of every progressive in the state and will need the funding of labor, gender-equity, environmental, GLBT, and other progressive groups, not to mention the professions involved: teachers, nurses, physicians, students, and so many others.
With so much at stake, even the continued viability of our government and the future of progressive politics here, none of us can sit back and watch. In a democracy, politics is not a spectator sport.
Senator Adam Kline represents the 37th Legislative District in the State Senate, and chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee. He also writes a semi-regular column for the Rainier Valley Post. Senator Kline’s views are his own and do not represent those of the Rainier Valley Post. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.