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Budget guessing game: Where will the money come from?

OLYMPIA – Gov. Jay Inslee explains his budget proposal on Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017, as Washington Education Association President Kim Mead looks on. (Jim Camden / The Spokesman-Review)
OLYMPIA – Gov. Jay Inslee explains his budget proposal on Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017, as Washington Education Association President Kim Mead looks on. (Jim Camden / The Spokesman-Review)

After the lighting of the Holiday Kids’ Tree, the most anticipated event in the Capitol in December is the release of the governor’s proposed budget for the coming year.

The governor’s budget staff toils long and hard for weeks, even in a year like this one when the budget is “supplemental,” which means it’s primarily an update of the two-year spending plan approved in July. One might think that the main budget, which required three overtime sessions to get to the point where it received bipartisan support, would need only the merest tweaking.

One would be wrong. Hanging over the governor’s and lawmakers’ collective heads is an order from the state Supreme Court not to put off until 2019 what they’re supposed to do in 2018, and find as much as $1 billion more for public schools.

Where the governor would suggest the state find that pile of cash was the subject of some speculation in the days leading up to the budget rollout.

Mark Schoesler, of Ritzville, who recently moved from Senate majority leader to Senate minority leader with the Democrats’ pickup of a Senate seat, said he heard “rumors” the governor would disregard the state’s four-year balanced budget law, which Republicans support as a bulwark against budget profligacy. “We certainly hope they aren’t true,” he said in a news release the day before rollout.

Jason Mercier, director of the Center for Government Reform at the Washington Policy Center – which sort of makes him inside the center of another center – warned that Inslee would be proposing a capital gains tax. Such a tax on significant investment earnings has been kicked around in the past, but like so many Seahawks field goal attempts in crucial situations, has not sailed through the uprights.

Still, Mercier borrowed from the old holiday favorite “Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus” to pen a warning that yes, Virginia, a capital gains tax is an income tax.

Anti-tax warriors apparently remain at DEFCON 1 over the proposed Seattle income tax, despite the fact that a judge has ruled it is illegal.

Two days before rollout, initiative entrepreneur Tim Eyman filed a proposal to block any state or local income tax or capital gains tax. This despite the fact that an income tax has consistently failed at the polls and has been held to be unconstitutional without voter approval. And if Mercier is right that a capital gains tax is an income tax, the same restrictions would already apply.

In the end, Inslee did not propose a capital gains tax, nor did he throw the four-year budget balancing statute out the window. He proposed dipping into the reserves for 2018 and coming up with a tax or fee on carbon emissions for future years. That will start a new round of kvetching.

Another Eyman initiative?

An inquiring reader called midweek to ask if Eyman and his Spokane compatriots, Spokane City Councilman Mike Fagan and his father, Jack Fagan, had in fact filed a new initiative, and if so, why wasn’t something about it in the paper.

The newspaper has decided to take a “wait and see” attitude about Eyman & Co. initiative proposals. This year they have filed more than 60 proposals, counting initiatives to the people and initiatives to the Legislature, on a wide range of topics. Everything from blocking an income tax and calling for a revote on the Sound Transit projects to term limits for some local elected officials and reinforcing $30 car tabs has been pushed by an operation that could adopt the name Initiatives-R-Us.

As longtime Eyman nemesis Andrew Villaneuve of the Northwest Progressive Institute pointed out within minutes of Tuesday’s filing, many recent initiatives from the trio have started out with a publicity bang but gone out with not so much as a whimper and not qualifying for the ballot. Eyman and the Fagans collect contributions and get compensation whether the measures make it to the ballot or not.

A scam supreme

The Washington attorney general is warning of a phone scam with a judicial twist.

It seems that someone has been calling people, claiming to be the clerk of the Washington Supreme Court and threatening arrest unless they pay a fine or a fee. Don’t fall for it.

The Supreme Court never calls to demand money, or threatens people with arrest if they don’t pay. Heck, if they did that, the first calls would be to the Legislature, which so far owes about $85 million in unpaid fines for not fixing the state’s public school system fast enough.

The scammers, who apparently have a fake caller ID, are persuasive as well as aggressive.

“These imposters prey on consumers’ fears to gain access to their bank account,” Attorney General Bob Ferguson said. Those targeted so far are people with Hispanic last names.

Ferguson suggests anyone getting such a call to hang up immediately. That’s probably cleaner, but possibly not as fun as Spin Control’s suggestion of saying, “Wait a second,” and putting the phone down next to a screaming baby or holding it up to the smoke detector and pressing the test button. After getting off the phone, you can file a consumer complaint with the attorney general’s office at www.atg.wa.gov.