EYE ON OLYMPIA: Bill attempts to break deadlock

OLYMPIA — The state Legislature officially started a special session last Monday but there hasn’t been much of the expected negotiations about funding public education or the operating budget for the next two years.

There is a glimmer of hope, though.

State Sen. Dino Rossi, R-Sammamish, introduced a revenue proposal that just might move things along — or at least start a conversation among budget negotiators.

Rossi told reporters last week that if the bill he introduced, SB 5929, comes to the floor, he doesn’t intend to vote for it.

He said he doesn’t think it will pass in the Senate and the House has not voted on its own version of the same bill — making SB 5929 a strategy for highlighting the lack of support for new taxes in the Legislature.

Both the houses have made proposals to fund the state operating budget and public education but only the Senate has passed one. The Senate would impose a statewide property tax to essentially replace local levies, at least for the first year. The House has proposed a capital gains tax and other business taxes but did not pass it during the regular session.

While the House’s Democratic majority has said it would negotiate a revenue bill, the Senate Republicans have refused, arguing that their colleagues have not passed one. Their argument is that the House has no revenue bill and there is nothing to negotiate or reconcile.

Rossi proposes the Senate consider a bill with provisions identical to those of the House measure, HB 2186:

• a 7 percent capital gains tax.

• a 20 percent business and occupation tax.

• a sales tax on bottled water as well as taxes on out-of-state shoppers who buy from Amazon.com and other Washington-based websites.

• a real estate excise tax.

The Senate’s Ways and Means Committee held a hearing on SB 5929 last Wednesday.

According to The Seattle Times, more than 100 supporters of education came out to testify in the bill’s favor. Business owners testified against it.

Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim, is doubtful it’ll move forward. Van De Wege, Rep. Steve Tharinger and Rep. Mike Chapman represent the 24th District in the Legislature. The 24th District is made up of Clallam and Jefferson counties and part of Grays Harbor County.

As Chapman — the House assistant majority whip — noted last week, most legislators have been told by their leadership to report for votes Tuesday.

Could the Senate be looking at a vote on SB 5929 then?

Van De Wege said, “I think that all of those proposals [5929] are up in the air right now and are dependent on negotiations. I doubt any part of that bill will come up for a vote on May 2.”

More likely, said the senator, is that they “will be re-passing some legislation that the Senate has already voted on during regular session but that, without House action, never was signed in to law — thus the legislation needs to start most of the process over again.”

Rural broadband

A House bill co-sponsored by Chapman, D-Port Angeles, and Tharinger, D-Sequim, during the regular session (HB 1938) that would have empowered public utility districts to offer telecommunication services, particularly in rural areas, failed to get much traction but has been re-introduced for the special session.

In the meantime, Van De Wege has introduced an amendment to SB 5711 that would require the state Department of Commerce to study how faster, better broadband service can be provided to rural and underserved areas.

It would also require the Utilities and Transportation Commission to work with Commerce to develop and recommend strategies for deploying broadband in underserved areas — such as the 24th District.

Surplus trucks

Van De Wege, a firefighter in Clallam Fire District No. 3, also introduced an amendment to SB 2010 to extend the class of communities that can receive surplus fire trucks to include fire districts on the Olympic Peninsula.

These are typically older fire trucks that are still serviceable, said Van De Wege, but that have been retired by other districts or towns to make way for new fleets. They are often donated to fire districts that lack the resources to purchase trucks on their own.

“As last year’s multiple lightning fires in the upper Elwha Valley demonstrated, the Olympic National Park is far from immune to wildfires and could benefit from additional firefighting resources,” he added.

Two for Chapman

Chapman expressed pleasure last week that two bills he sponsored or co-sponsored received Gov. Jay Inslee’s signature and have become laws.

HB 1283 will eliminate the administrative burden of county treasurers who have been required to collect an anticipate property tax on land divided prior to recording the documents with the auditor. Under the new law, the property taxes will be paid when they are due, eliminating prepayment.

HB 1149 will exempt public transit vehicles equipped with bike racks from a three-foot vehicle front extension limit. The bipartisan legislation passed the House 91-6 and the Senate 47-0.

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Assistant Managing Editor Mark Swanson can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55450, or mswanson@peninsuladailynews.com.

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