Promoting honest government, state income tax ban, and a third proposal to fix basic education funding highlighted this week in Olympia

Feb 15, 2017


Lawmakers this week continue to pass bills out of committee ahead of the first cutoff deadline coming this Friday, moving dozens of measures to floor calendars for action by the House and Senate members. Most of these measures deal with a variety of uncontroversial issues— and will likely be passed by large majorities and be sent to the governor.

Meanwhile, a group of Democratic Senators has proposed a bill to comply with court-mandated state basic education funding requirements. Sponsored by Sen. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah, SB 5825 would approach the issue differently than the House Democrats’ (HB 1843) and Senate Republicans’ (SB 5607) proposals currently under consideration.

Instead of reducing local property tax levies and then funding schools with additional state money, Sen. Mullet’s plan would make the current local levies permanent. Under his plan, the state would collect the levy dollars from each school district and re-distribute them, adding about $750 million of state funds every two years in levy-equalization assistance to help districts that have a lower property tax base. A major source of additional funding would come from imposing, for the first time, a state sales tax on purchases made online.

Senate Republicans are working to advance SB 5533, which would prohibit contributions to gubernatorial candidates from labor unions that collectively bargain with the state. The bill would promote honest and open government by ending the practice of governors negotiating public employee salary increases in secret with the union executives who helped elect them.

The governor’s collective bargaining negotiations are currently exempt from the Open Public Meetings Act, meaning they take place behind closed doors. State employee unions contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to support the governor’s election, using dues that unionized state employees must pay as a condition of employment. SB 5533, and its companion measure HB 1891, would help restore public confidence by injecting more transparency and accountability into the public employee collective bargaining process. Details are provided by Washington Policy Center’s legislative memo on this issue here.

Also this week, the Senate Ways and Means Committee held a hearing on SJR 8204, which would amend the state constitution to prohibit the taxation of individual income. Washington is one of nine states that currently don’t impose an income tax, a fact that is important to attracting businesses to come to the state.  Voters have rejected an income tax nine times since a 1933 state Supreme Court ruling that an income tax would require a constitutional amendment.

Proponents of an income tax continue to seek a test case, believing that today’s court would overturn established case law and allow such a tax without a constitutional amendment. SJR 8204, and the House companion measure introduced today, HJR 4207, would take this tax policy decision out of the hands of five justices and make it crystal clear that our state constitution does not allow a personal income tax. See Jason Mercier’s Washington Policy Center legislative memo on this issue here.

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