Getting it done in Olympia - Salish Current

Legislators enacted three of six Initiatives to the Legislature in the last session, and left three for the voters to decide in November. Among those before voters is repeal of the Climate Commitment Act that repeal proponents blame for high gas prices, whereas repeal would significantly decrease funds for climate change mitigation. A downtown gas station displays current prices. (Salish Current © 2024)

share:

The essays, analyses and opinions presented as Community Voices express the perspectives of their authors on topics of interest and importance to the community, and are not intended to reflect perspectives on behalf of the Salish Current.

The 2024 version of the Washington State Legislature adjourned right on schedule with little of the fireworks of past years. Much was done, some was left until next year, and in the last week the Leg determined the initial fate of the six Republican-supported Initiatives to the Legislature that cast shadows over the proceedings for all six weeks of the session. 

Perhaps due to a genuine spirit of cooperation, or perhaps due to a diminished amount of press coverage, the vibe coming out the session was one of general satisfaction with having done the People’s Business.

Several bills that were adopted were proposed by minority Republicans. This indicated either that the majority Democrats realized that the Republicans occasionally had some good ideas or that the lack of performative actions by individual legislators or citizen groups freed the press from having to cover their drama and devote more coverage to substantive bills. In any event, both parties were generally happy with the session. The budget bills were nowhere near as contentious as in past years. But next year could be very different. See below.

The press has covered what passed, and what didn’t. In case you missed that coverage, each of our local legislators has trumpeted their triumphs and what is left for next year.

Six Initiatives to the Legislature

Much of the Republican satisfaction came from how the six initiatives were treated. Recall that each of these was the result of workshopping several versions all submitted by Rep. Jim Walsh (R-Aberdeen). Signature gathering was enabled by over $6,000,000 contributed by Brian Heywood, a billionaire trying to reverse many of the progressive laws passed by the Leg in recent years. His contributions and loans can be found at the Public Disclosure Commission website under the committee Let’s Go Washington.

The six initiatives were each an Initiative to the Legislature, which present the Legislature with three choices: enact the initiative as written, in which case it becomes law; propose an alternate version, in which case in November the voters choose which version they prefer or neither; or refer the initiative as submitted to the voters as written for a straight yes or no vote.

Had the Republicans presented these as bills for Legislative consideration, none would have been enacted by the Democratic majority. But as Initiatives to the Legislature, just doing nothing would have sent all to the November ballot.

The Democrats in the Legislature enacted three of the Initiatives:

  • the ban on income taxes,
  • the rights of parents to their children’s school records, and
  • the restoration of some of the limitations on police procedures and chases.

We will vote on the initiatives:

  • reversing the Climate Change Program
  • eliminating the Capital Gains Tax, and
  • making voluntary the payroll deduction for retiree care.

Why?

One explanation is that the income tax ban and the school initiatives mostly codified current law and were annoying to Democrats but not earthshaking.

In 1933 the Washington Supreme Court struck down a graduated income tax.

The Superintendent of Public Instruction opined that about 95% of the schools initiative was already current law and the other 5% would not unduly disrupt education.

The third, relaxing some of the limitations on police, reduces the threshold for chases of suspected car thieves and drug dealers (always popular), notwithstanding study after study showing that innocent bystanders are often the victims of car chases.

Cynics note that all three are all hot-button issues that would bring out irate voters, mostly on the right.

We will vote on the other three Initiatives in November. Each needs a simple majority to pass. 

I-2109 would repeal the tax on capital gains over $250,000 per year. Only the wealthiest 4,000 Washingtonians pay this tax. It lifted Washington from the least progressive tax state to the 49th worst. Passage will eliminate a lot of needed public school funding. The state estimates I-2109, if passed, would reduce revenue by $1.6 billion in the 2023–25 budget period.

I-2117 would repeal the parts of the Climate Commitment Act that deals with Washington’s auction of pollution credits. Auction proceeds go toward climate change mitigation, especially reducing greenhouse gases. Backers are selling this as repealing a hidden gas tax. The March auction resulted in 40% to 63% lower bids than in 2023. If the Climate Commitment Act is a gas tax in disguise, we should see gas prices drastically lowered. Has gas gotten cheaper? The state estimates I-2117, if passed, will reduce Department of Ecology funding by $1.4 billion in the 2023–25 budget period.

I-2124 would amend the law requiring workers to contribute pennies an hour to a state program that would pay them a small health benefit when they retire. The best analogy is to Social Security. I-2124 makes contribution voluntary, effectively gutting the program. Even if the benefit is small, it might enable a senior to buy new glasses that are otherwise unaffordable.

— Contributed by Dan Raas

  • ContributeWe welcome letters to the editor responding to or amplifying subjects addressed in Community Voices. If you wish to contribute to Community Voices, please send an email with a subject proposal to Managing Editor Mike Sato (msato@rockisland.com) and he will respond with guidelines.
  • Subscribe and shareDid you find this information useful? If so, share it with a friend, a family member or colleague and ask them to subscribe to Salish Current (it’s free) for more stories like this.
  • SupportDonations from readers like you make fact-based, independent, no-paywall local journalism from Salish Current possible — thank you for your support.

News for People, Not for Profit

A STRONG COMMUNITY NEEDS A STRONG LOCAL PRESS.

Help us revive local journalism.

MORE
© 2024 Salish Current | site by Shew Design