Olympia Watch: Washington Policy Center discusses key issues in final days of legislature

State income tax, critical race theory in education, and limiting Governor’s power following over 400 days with no legislative input

As the state legislature winds down its 2021 session, a lot of legislative sausage is being made behind closed doors. A host of vital issues are being decided by the Democrat majority controlling both houses of the legislature between now and the April 25th end of the regular session.

In most cases, there are differences to be worked out between House and Senate bills passed on the same subject. There’s lots of horse trading, as a host of lobbyists angle to include funding and/or language regarding their special interest. All this is being done without citizens being able to appear in person, and provide face to face input to their elected representatives.

The Washington Policy Center (WPC) is a private non-profit think tank in our state, following a host of issues on behalf of citizens. On Monday afternoon, they held a 30 minute live conference on social media, sharing an update on important issues and what was “the latest” from Olympia.

Income tax advances

A new state income tax, critical race theory advanced via various “education” bills, and an attempt to reign in the power of the governor during an emergency, were topics covered in their Monday afternoon discussion.

Paul Guppy serves as vice president for research and he shared some history. “There has been literally decades of effort in the state by people on the left to create a state income tax in Washington State. We are one of only nine states that has no state income tax.” 

Chris Cargill and Paul Guppy of the Washington Policy Center are part of a WPC discussion on the legislature’s final days and the issues being decided. Topics included a state income tax, reigning in the governor’s power in an “emergency,” and critical race theory. Graphic John Ley

“There are definitely activists in our state who want to take us off that list and get some kind of income tax imposed in our state,” he said. “They have made that effort 10 times in the past, it has gone before voters and voters have rejected it every single time 10 times in a row.”

Gov. Jay Inslee has proposed a state income tax in the past. He did so again in December, when he proposed his budget.

What is being proposed now, is being sold as a tax on the rich; something that won’t impact the average citizen. The bill states: “AN ACT Relating to investing in Washington families and creating a more progressive tax system in Washington by enacting an excise tax on the sale or exchange of certain capital assets.”

The capital gains tax (SB 5096) passed 25-24 on March 6. Senators refused to have an emergency clause attached, which would prohibit voters from submitting a referendum on the issue. In the House it is up for its second reading where a different version of the bill is advancing. The House bill contains language mirroring “emergency clause” language, in the hopes of getting a tax-favorable ruling from an expected court challenge.

The WPC’s Jason Mercier shared: “Despite irrefutable evidence from the IRS and every other state revenue department, supporters of this tax refuse to call it an income tax. They insist they have discovered a way to tax capital gains income that no other tax professional in the world is aware of – as an “excise tax.”

Cargill shared that the house version has a marriage penalty in it. “There is a ban on charitable deductions in terms of getting a deduction on the state portion of the new income tax. I think people would say, this is an income tax because of the forms that you have to fill out and the deductions that you get, and that marriage penalty.” Guppy mentioned this mirrors language in the other 41 states that have income taxes. 

Citizens would be required to provide the state a copy of the federal income tax return. “That raises serious privacy concerns,” says Guppy.

Critical Race Theory

The issue of Critical Race Theory being mandated in education was discussed. “They are lashing out and pushing an intellectual idea called critical race theory, which does exactly the opposite of the goal that we’re all trying to get to,” said Guppy. “That is treating people differently based on their appearance.”

He mentioned that for 200 years of our nation’s history, we have sought equality. Especially for the last 50 years, our goals have been to create equal treatment for all under the law. “We also want a culture and a society that reflects that even without the force of the law, we all feel that everybody should be treated fairly, based on their merits and their intrinsic worth as a person,” he said.

“What we are seeing in our own state are specific bills that would turn back the clock on the way that schools, universities and medical schools treat people and specifically these bills would require mandated training for public employees,” said Guppy. 

Four separate bills (SB 5044, SB 5194, SB 5227, SB 5228) were mentioned requiring Critical Race Theory to be taught in the schools, in training to teachers and government agencies, and even in medical school. The medical school bill (SB 5228) was signed into law April 16.

“What on earth does the appearance of a patient have, in terms of the kind of medical care that you receive?” asked Guppy.  “We think it’s a breach of professional ethics, that nurses and doctors would be taught to see people based on their group identity, rather than treating them with dignity as an individual person.”

Liv Finne pointed out the WPC, Center for Latino Leadership, Ethnic Chambers of Commerce Coalition President Mike Sotelo, and Washington Asians for Equality, all signed an open letter calling on Governor Inslee to veto four bills. They would require public employees in state educational institutions to attend sessions in the dehumanizing and discriminatory concept known as “Critical Race Theory.”  The letter was published in nine state newspapers this weekend.

Limiting Governor’s powers

On Friday, members of the House minority brought forward an effort to limit the governor’s executive powers in an emergency. The “eighth order” was a procedural move seeking to force a vote about how long a governor’s emergency authority should last, without a vote of the legislature. The effort failed along a party line vote.

“We’ve had over 400 days of governance in this state by exactly one person,” said Guppy. “The governor has made every key decision that the government would normally take just by himself with no oversight.” 

Most other states, even states with Democratic governors, have a 60-day limit or a 90-day limit, Guppy shared. “That’s what the republicans were proposing this last weekend, let’s have a 60- or 90-day review period over what the governor is doing.”

Even blue states (that lean to a Democrat majority) like Hawaii have requirements allowing the people’s representatives to weigh in. “This is not a left, right, Republican question,” he said. “It’s about the core structure that we have as to whether one chief executive should be in charge for so long.” 

“Nobody should be governing a state for over 400 days without reasonable oversight by the legislature.,” Guppy said.

“What the heck do we even have a legislature for if everything is just going to be up to the governor,” asked Cargill. “The governor gets to decide when we have the lockdown, when we’re open, when we’re closed. What’s the point of having 150 members of the legislature?”

Cargill expressed concerns about the precedent this sets for the future. “What if you have a situation 10 years from now, and the legislature has this precedent of not stepping in. It makes me a little bit concerned about the future of the state governing structure, when it comes to critical, critical decisions.”

Harmsworth sought to take it one step further, to the state bureaucracy. Legislators delegate authority to our state bureaucracies, when they pass bills. They take the authority away from the legislature and give it to an agency or committee. 

“A great example of this is the Washington State Transportation Committee that sets our tolling rates for our roads,” said Harmsworth. “I think it should be voted on by the legislature, but they’ve delegated it to an agency. So during a pandemic, or during an emergency of extended executive orders, these agencies, they can pretty much get away with anything.”

Cargill opined that there would be no need for a state legislature under these rules. Therefore we could save a lot of money and return it to the small businesses and workers who have been shut down for the past year.

Harmsworth addressed the fact that there has been no definition of when the pandemic ends.

“There’s no definition of what a phase four was like. We are slipping further and further behind the other states in our nation.” 

“We need to get our employees back to 100 percent, particularly in the retail and hospitality industries, you know, restaurants and so forth,” he said.

The WPC apparently intends to provide a daily discussion and update to citizens on which bills are and are not advancing in the final days of the legislative session. It will be held at noon and can be viewed on its Facebook page.

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