Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Although you'd think most people would be out enjoying summer vacations, July has been a busy month for news related to legislative matters and state government. Here are some examples:
- The new two-year biennial state budget took effect July 1, as well as Initiative 1639, a new firearms law passed by voters last November.
- A recent court ruling may allow local governments to impose a new income tax.
- The state Transportation Commission may be considering a pay-by-the-mile road usage charge; and
- We're nearing 90 days after the 2019 session, in which many of the bills passed during the session take effect.
Read on for details and let me know your thoughts. As your state representative, it's my job to listen to your concerns. I want to know your views on the income tax and road-usage charge issues. Please take my short survey. I will read all of your comments.
Also, please mark your calendar to join me for an informal coffee meeting, Aug. 28, 11 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. at The Mustard Seed Project of Key Peninsula, 9016 154th Ave. Court N.W., in Lakebay. More information is below in this update.
2019-21 state operating budget now in effect
Washington state operates in two-year fiscal cycles. The previous budget cycle ended June 30 and a new $52.4 billion two-year operating budget took effect July 1. It represents an increase of $7.8 billion in spending over the previous 2017-19 budget.
In my last email update, I discussed concerns about the growth of this budget and the enormous tax increases used to boost spending — despite the fact our state had a budget surplus.
However, there are some good things funded in this budget, including important investments to our state's mental health system and reduction of the backlog of untested rape kits. Many state employees received general salary increases of up to 3 percent on July 1, with another 3 percent scheduled for July 1, 2020. A new database of state employee salaries was recently updated for the public to browse on the state fiscal information website.
Controversial firearms initiative takes effect
Last November, just under 60 percent of Washington voters approved Initiative 1639, which makes a number of changes to Washington's firearms laws. One component of the initiative, which raised the legal purchase age for semiautomatic rifles to 21, became law in January. On July 1, other parts of the law, including enhanced background checks for buyers of semiautomatic rifles and a safe gun-storage provision, took effect.
The initiative is controversial and a lawsuit has been filed against it by the National Rifle Association and the Second Amendment Foundation. Gun-rights advocates see it as a violation of the Second Amendment and many county sheriffs say they won't enforce it. State Attorney General Bob Ferguson has warned officials could be civilly liable if they don't enforce the law and someone then sues their city or county.
The Attorney General's office has created a website to answer questions about Initiative 1639. You can go here to access it and get more information.
Is Washington state closer to having an income tax?
Since 1934, Washington voters have voted down six attempts to amend the state constitution to pave the way to graduated taxes on income. Over roughly the same period, Washington voters also have rejected four statewide ballot proposals to codify an income tax by statute. In 1984, the Legislature further acted to clarify the law against local income taxes by passing Senate Bill 4313, which reads: “a county, city or city council shall not levy a tax on net income.”
These actions have not stopped several attempts by cities to impose an income tax — the latest in July 2017 when the Seattle City Council approved a 2.25 percent tax on total income above $250,000 for individuals and above $500,000 for married couples filing their taxes together. The King County Superior Court struck down the Seattle income tax in November 2017. Since then, it has been the subject of appeal in the courts.
Why are we talking about it now? Because on Monday, July 15, the state Court of Appeals issued a ruling that could clear the way for local income taxes and, eventually, state income taxes to be imposed in Washington. The Appeals Court ruled that Seattle's tax on wealthy households is unconstitutional, but so is the 1984 state law banning Seattle and other Washington cities from taxing net income.
I'm very concerned that if an income tax is adopted, it would be added on top of existing taxes and would most likely not replace what we are already paying in other taxes. I stand with a majority of Washingtonians who have said a state income tax should not be on the table in any form, including a capital gains tax, which is also considered by the IRS as an income tax.
Pay by the mile to drive your car? State Transportation Commission to consider road-usage charge
Between February 2018 and January 2019, about 2,000 drivers voluntarily participated in a statewide pilot project to test whether a per-mile road usage charge would be a feasible way to potentially replace Washington state's gas tax to fund our roads and bridges. The state Transportation Commission is expected to vote on this project Dec. 17 and send those recommendations to the Legislature, which convenes in January.
Transportation officials say a pay-per-mile charge may be considered a sustainable source of funding because more fuel-efficient vehicles have eroded the state's ability to rely long-term on the gas tax for transportation needs.
I have heard concerns from our communities about how the mileage data would be collected, the issue of privacy if you must plug in a mileage tracker to your vehicle, and how a per-mile charge could disproportionately affect people living in rural areas of the state. With the state gas tax, 49.4 cents per gallon is collected every time you go to the gas pump. However, if a per-mile charge is assessed with an annual odometer reading, does that mean you'd have to cough up hundreds, or even thousands of dollars at once? How would that affect families and senior citizens with limited incomes? As you can see, there are many concerning questions I'd like addressed before we go in this direction.
SURVEY SAYS. . . I want to hear from you!
You've just read about a couple of very controversial issues that could be facing the Legislature next year — income taxes and road usage charges. How do you feel about these issues? Please take a moment to fill out my brief survey. Your answers will provide a better understanding of where you and your neighbors stand on these important topics.
Many new laws take effect Sunday, July 28
With the exception of fiscal-related bills and those measures that passed with an emergency clause — in which they take effect immediately — many bills are written to become effective 90 days after the end of a session. The 2019 legislative session ended April 28 and this coming Sunday, July 28 will be 90 days since we adjourned.
KING 5 News listed some of the major bills on its website that become effective Sunday. You can view those here.
Three of my four prime-sponsored bills that passed the Legislature will take effect Sunday. They include:
- House Bill 1016 – Requires hospitals to notify a rape victim within two hours of their arrival that they don't have rape kits or a provider trained in sexual assault examinations on the premises. It also requires hospitals that do not provide rape kits to develop a plan by July 1, 2020 to assist victims in finding a facility with appropriate providers available. Read more about this bill here.
- House Bill 1607 – Requires a written notice be given to the state attorney general at least 60 days before the effective date of a hospital or provider organization acquisition or merger. The measure grew out of the merger and acquisitions in 2016 involving CHI Franciscan, The Doctors Clinic and WestSound Orthopaedics in Kitsap County. That merger created a monopoly that eliminated competition, allowing rates to be hiked. When that happened, I notified Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who filed a federal anti-trust lawsuit against the Tacoma-based non-profit health system in 2017. CHI Franciscan recently settled the suit. You can read more about the settlement here.
- House Bill 1934 – Allows out-of-state military members who are Washington residents to remotely renew their concealed weapons permits without having to come back to our state to do so. It's a small step to help our military men and women who are residents of Washington, but are serving our country elsewhere. Read more about this bill here.
My fourth measure that passed the Legislature takes effect Oct. 1. House Bill 1198 requires that a health care provider who has been sanctioned by a disciplinary authority due to unprofessional actions involving sexual misconduct, must provide a disclosure to any patient scheduled for an appointment. This is about protecting patients and providing full disclosure. Read more about this bill here.
Mark your calendar for Wednesday, Aug. 28 in Lakebay. Let's have coffee together!
I work for you year-round
Although the Legislature is adjourned for this year, I continue to work for you throughout the year. I am here to listen and help. I maintain an office in Olympia and my Legislative Assistant, Matthew Griffin, takes your calls and letters, and we then work together on scheduling meetings and resolving your issues. Please contact me any time you have questions, comments, concerns or ideas about state government. My contact information is below. It is an honor to serve you!