2019 Legislature opens with question: Isn’t $5 billion enough?

The following op-ed appeared in the Prosser Record-Bulletin and Dayton Chronicle during the week of Jan. 21.

By Sen. Maureen Walsh, Rep. Bill Jenkin, Rep. Skyler Rude

The Senate opens for business with ceremonies Jan. 14.

As the Legislature opens for business this year, a prosperous state economy is filling our treasury with record tax collections – nearly $5 billion more than the last time we wrote a budget. Yet some people say it’s not enough, and the governor is proposing the biggest tax increase in state history.

As your lawmakers from the 16th Legislative District, we’ve heard it all before. No matter how much money the state collects, it’s never enough. In the session that began Jan. 14, our biggest task is writing a budget that will cover the state for the next two years. As always, it is a matter of balancing demands for state spending against the ability of the state’s citizens to pay for it.

But this year, massive tax increases have become a chilling possibility. This is the first budget session since the Great Recession that our urban colleagues have full control of the statehouse – the House, the Senate and the governor’s office. Those of us who believe in fiscal responsibility will have a fight on our hands.

Our state’s good economic fortune came largely because of fiscal restraint. The Legislature resisted major tax increases and didn’t put the brakes on economic growth. The red-hot economy of the Puget Sound area has generated multi-billion-dollar increases in tax collections every year. We plowed most of that new money into the public schools, something on which all of us can agree.

Rep. Skyler Rude, the newest member of the 16th District delegation, takes his oath of office.

We’ll have enough this year to take care of the things we really need to do – continued investment in our schools, improvements to our mental health system.

But the governor has proposed another $5 billion in spending, on top of the $5 billion in new money we expect to collect, for a total increase over the last budget of 22.4 percent.  To achieve this spending, he proposes an income tax on capital gains, which would hammer the tech industry, the golden goose of the state’s prosperity, and could easily lead to an income tax all of us would pay. He also proposes a punishing 67 percent increase in taxes on service businesses – doctors, dentists, accountants and others. All of us would feel it in the invoices we pay.

These new tax proposals will be the central battle of the session. It’s easier to see the big picture in Southeast Washington, which has not fully shared in the prosperity of the Puget Sound area. We will have 9.2 percent more money available to us than the last time we wrote a budget. Most of us would consider that a healthy increase. Surely $5 billion in new money ought to be enough.

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Our session is scheduled to run until April 28, and we’ve moved our offices to Olympia for the duration. We stand ready to serve you. We are:

  • Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla. Top priorities this year are improving services for the developmentally disabled and improving rehabilitation and re-entry programs at the state penitentiary and other institutions. 205 Irv Newhouse Bldg., (360) 786-7630, Maureen.Walsh@leg.wa.gov.
  • Bill Jenkin, R-Prosser. Top priorities are fighting the governor’s capital gains tax and environmental priorities, holding the line on new taxes and regulations, and finding common-sense solutions to the housing crisis. 470 John L. O’Brien Bldg., (360) 786-7836, Bill.Jenkin@leg.wa.gov.
  • Skyler Rude, R-Walla Walla. The newest member of the 16th District delegation, Skyler was sworn in Jan. 14. Top priorities are ensuring high-quality educational opportunities for all Washington children, improving service delivery for our most vulnerable populations, and providing a healthy business climate that helps job creators and workers thrive.  122G Legislative Bldg., (360) 786-7828, Skyler.Rude@leg.wa.gov.