Opinion: A closer look at what the governor calls an ‘extremely productive legislative session’

Clark County Today Editor Ken Vance takes a closer look at the 2021 Legislative session

During his “Take It Outside,’’ press conference Thursday afternoon, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee added a brief legislative update. With the 2021 Legislative session scheduled to end in just nine days, Inslee praised lawmakers for what they have accomplished and what they still hope to.

Inslee began his short legislative update by stating lawmakers were close to completing an “extremely productive legislative session.’’ I literally performed my own “spit take’’ while viewing the governor speak the words. Of course, lawmakers who would agree with Inslee don’t normally return my calls or emails, but I haven’t spoken to a single lawmaker who would agree with the governor’s words.

You see, the 2021 legislative session hasn’t been about addressing Washington’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and the governor’s lockdown of the state. Inslee said Thursday that the legislature is addressing the homelessness issue in the state, but that’s also not what this session has been about. It hasn’t been about addressing education funding, which accounts for more than half of the state’s budget, nor about getting children back inside the classroom, which is what most parents have been clamoring for during the past year. 

What this current legislative session has been about is raising your taxes, plain and simple. Why? Because we live in a state that hasn’t had a Republican or Conservative governor since John Spellman in 1985. And, both sides of the Washington State Legislature are controlled by a Democrat majority. So, why are they devoting so much of the 2021 Legislative session to raising your taxes? Because they can and that’s what they do.

Sue Lani Madsen wrote this in the (Spokane) The Spokesman Review earlier this week.

“Democrats could have chosen relief on sales tax, always top of their list of regressive taxes. They could have chosen property tax relief. They could have chosen reductions in driver’s license fees and vehicle registration fees. They could have chosen to eliminate Discover Passes and other fees creating a barrier to public lands and aim to encourage healthy outdoor recreation.’’

Why, you may ask, could the Democrats have chosen to take any of those actions during this session? It’s because, in spite of the current pandemic that we are mired in, the state of Washington has had billions of dollars of revenue pouring into its coffers.

Washington received nearly $3 billion as part of the CARES Act stimulus package approved by Congress in March 2020, and is expected to receive well over twice that amount from the $2.2 trillion American Rescue Plan. Beyond that, the most recent state revenue forecast was up $1.3 billion more than expected for the 2019-21 biennium, and an additional $1.9 billion for the 2021-23 biennium.

Instead of providing Washington residents with the tax relief they need and deserve with all that additional revenue, what has the Democrat-controlled legislature done that is so pleasing to our governor? The lawmakers have proposed 33 transportation taxes, as detailed in this Seattle Times report report. Changes would allegedly take effect Sept. 1 unless stated otherwise.

  • Gasoline tax, a 9.8 cent per gallon increase July 1, 2021, to raise $5.2 billion (Senate version. The House proposal is an 18 cent per gallon increase.)
  • “Cap & Invest,” a carbon fee Jan. 1, 2023, raises $5.2 billion.
  • Ordinary 6.5 percent sales tax on hybrid and electric cars moves from general fund into transportation July 1, 2025, raises $1.0 billion.
  • Tax on new construction ($150 per $100,000 value residential, $100 per $100,000 on manufacturing, $300 per $100,000 for commercial, zero for farms and timber) starting Jan. 1, 2023, raises $803 million.
  • Fees of 50 cents per trip on food deliveries, taxis and ride-hailing services Jan. 1, 2022, raises $711 million.
  • Sales tax on Forward Washington construction is held for transportation uses, preserving $563 million for transportation spreading.
  • Sales-tax increase of 1 percent on auto parts, raises $405 million.
  • Motorcycle license-plate fee of $4 increases to $6, and car-plate fee of $10 increases to $15, raises $291 million.
  • Boat tax doubles to 1 percent for most non-fishing vessels over 16 feet, raises $254 million
  • Enhanced driver’s license and ID fees (six-year card) of $24 increase to $42, raises $142 million.
  • Annual license fees increase 5 percent on vehicles over 10,000 pounds, raises $125 million.
  • Standard driver’s license fees (six-year card) of $54 increase to $60, raises $118 million.
  • Car-rental tax of 5.9 percent increases to 6.9 percent, raises $108 million.
  • Driver-record abstract fee of $13 increases to $14, raises $83 million.
  • Background-check fee, now $15 to check whether cars moved here from other states are stolen, increases to $25, raises $77 million.
  • A $10 weight-fee increase for cars and pickups July 1, 2021 instead of a year later, raises $70 million.
  • A 50-cent car-tab surcharge to help fund new ferries increases to 75 cents, raises $68 million.
  • Oversized truckload trip fee of $25 increases to $45, raises $62 million.
  • Personal trailer license-tab fee of $15 increases to $20, raises $44 million.
  • Title fees on car registrations or sales, increases $1 to a total $16, raises $38 million.
  • Fee to change your driver’s license picture, increased from $10 to $20, raises $34 million.
  • Interest income while these fees sit in a savings account, $25 million.
  • Motor home weight fees of $75 increases to $95 per year, raises $24 million.
  • Extend license-tab processing fees of 75 cents to trucks, raises $22 million.
  • Aircraft fuel tax of 11 cents increases to 16 cents, raises $19 million for aviation purposes.
  • Vehicle “lookup fee” of $2 increases to $4 for users, raises $18 million.
  • Driver record-monitoring fee of 6 cents increases to 8 cents, raises $9 million.
  • Bulk-data fee of 2.5 cents increases to 5 cents, raises $6 million.
  • Surcharge of $50 for quick title processing increases to $55, raises $3 million.
  • Commercial drone registration fee of $15, raises $3 million.
  • License-tab fee for personal trailers of $187.50 for lifetime use, increases to $200, raises $2 million.
  • Pay-by-the-mile charges begin in 2025-2026 to replace existing $225 car-tab fee on electric and hybrid cars, income unknown.
  • Charge tolls on transit and school buses, income unknown.
  • Move $146 million from the sources above into Tacoma Narrows Bridge account to prevent toll increases, a revenue loss of $146 million.

Not included here are unknown but significant taxes and costs associated with a proposed low carbon fuels standard. The Washington Policy Center reports the low-carbon fuel standards bill (HB 1091) passed both the House and Senate, but Senate Democrats changed the bill to tie it into a proposed $18 billion, 16-year tax and spend transportation package. Combined with the cap-and-trade and low-carbon fuel standards proposals, it would add more than 50 cents per gallon in gas taxes paid by Washington consumers and businesses.

Keep in mind, Washington residents currently pay the fourth-highest gas tax in the country, a total of 67.8 cents per gallon in state and federal taxes. If the Democrats have their way, you could very well soon be paying more than $1 per gallon in gas taxes.

If you agree with Gov. Inslee that qualifies as “an extremely productive legislative session,’’ then you and I are from different corners of the jungle.

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