Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Election-year restrictions prohibit me and other state legislators from sending out email updates from Dec. 1 until Jan. 13, the first day of session, so I wanted to touch base with you one more time before the 2020 session begins. This is also Thanksgiving week, and although there are many challenges ahead as we move into a new year and a new session, I believe there are many things to be thankful for. I hope you and your family have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday.
Advisory votes demonstrate Washington voters want less taxes, more accountability
During the Nov. 5 general election, Washington voters were asked their opinions through non-binding advisory votes on 12 tax increases passed by the 2019 Legislature. Out of those 12, voters chose nine to repeal (meaning they don't favor the tax increases).
One of the largest tax hikes of the 2019 session, which I opposed, came in the form of House Bill 2158, which the ballot noted exceeds $2.253 billion over 10 years. Specifically, the bill increased business and occupation (B&O) taxes for certain service businesses, including an additional tax on advanced computing businesses.
I have been particularly concerned that it also boosted B&O taxes in the medical field, including dentistry, dental surgery, general or specialized medicine or surgery in independent practices and other independent health practitioners. This, at a time when we are trying to lower health care costs for patients.
The bill is using the new tax revenue generated to expand the state's Need Grant, making it an entitlement program (renamed the Washington College Grant) for students of higher education. Proponents of the measure said these grants would help get more students into career-connected workforce education. Unfortunately, it represents an enormous cost hike to most of our service-related businesses, many of whom are already struggling to stay afloat.
In the non-binding advisory vote on this measure, Washington voters recommended repeal by nearly 63 percent. Again, I voted no on House Bill 2158 and will continue to fight to protect your wallet.
Shoreline Community College considers closure of dental hygienist program
While I have concerns about all of the tax increases imposed by the 2019 Legislature, I am specifically troubled that as House Bill 2158 is now implemented with these higher B&O tax rates, workforce development programs in our higher education system may actually be reduced and/or eliminated.
For example, Shoreline Community College (SCC) offers a dental hygiene program to its students. About 24 slots per year are opened to dental hygiene students, who also take care of about 2,600 patients annually — many of whom are Medicaid patients. The Legislature provided nearly $40 million of capital construction funding for SCC to construct a new building for additional classes, including the dental hygiene program. However, while at a recent meeting at SCC, I discovered college officials are now considering permanently closing the dental hygiene program.
At a time when we are trying to expand workforce development, this makes no sense. It reduces the workforce at SCC and puts many Medicaid patients in a lurch. That's the opposite effect of the tax increases, which are now saddled on our service-related businesses.
In the coming 2020 session, I plan to look into this deeper. If the Legislature has imposed new taxes to expand workforce development, we shouldn't be closing vital programs that would educate our state's workforce. Either that, or let's repeal this tax increase, as the voters have recommended.
Road usage charge
Transportation funding will no doubt be among the higher profile discussions during the 2020 session, and passage of I-976 ($30 car tabs) likely puts a stronger spotlight on the road usage charge I highlighted in my July 26 and Oct. 8 email updates.
The state Transportation Commission is expected to vote Dec. 17 in Olympia whether to recommend to the Legislature implementing a per-mile road usage charge as a way to potentially replace Washington state's gas tax to fund our roads and bridges.
During an online survey I conducted this summer, I asked citizens, “Do you support a pay-by-mile road usage charge?” More than 82 percent of respondents said “no!”
Many of our local citizens are concerned (in my view, justifiably so) about privacy when calculation of miles driven is based on a device that is placed in their vehicles. There are also concerns this program would have greater impact to people who live in rural areas and must travel farther distances for services and health care. And what about out-of-state licensed drivers, especially in border communities, such as Vancouver and Spokane?
Many unanswered questions remain. And just like 82 percent of you, I have serious concerns about this proposal. Again, I welcome your views.
Contact my office
Although this is my last email update to you until after the 2020 legislative session begins, I am still able to respond to any emails, mail, phone messages and other direct communications in which you contact me. I encourage your questions and input. My contact information is below.
Again, my wish is for you and your families to have peace, joy and blessed holidays. Thank you for the honor of allowing me to serve you!