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Spin Control: Facts secondary in jousting over special session and Amazon

Sun., Sept. 10, 2017

Sen. Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane, speaks with the Yakima Herald-Republic in this April, 12, 2012, file photo in Yakima, Wash. Baumgartner issued a press release late last week demanding that Gov. Jay Inslee call a special session to override his own veto of a tax cut for state manufacturers. (TJ Mullinax / AP)
Sen. Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane, speaks with the Yakima Herald-Republic in this April, 12, 2012, file photo in Yakima, Wash. Baumgartner issued a press release late last week demanding that Gov. Jay Inslee call a special session to override his own veto of a tax cut for state manufacturers. (TJ Mullinax / AP)

In politics, things are rarely binary, black or white, all good or all bad, here or there.

So it seemed last week as some lawmakers continued to fume at the governor for his veto of a tax cut for the state’s manufacturers that was put into a package of tax changes early on the final day of the last fiscal year.

The jousting started, not surprisingly, with Sen. Mike Baumgartner, a Spokane Republican rarely constrained from verbal jabs during floor debate. Perhaps he is Jonesing for more such action, which may be the best explanation for his press release late last week calling for a special session.

He didn’t say lawmakers should convene a special session, which is allowed under the state Constitution. He demanded that Gov. Jay Inslee call one, for the least likely of reasons a governor might do so: “to override his veto of tax relief for manufacturers in Washington.”

That’s right. Baumgartner asked Inslee to invite legislators back to Olympia to tell the governor he’s full of carp on a decision made on a piece of legislation. As an inducement to this request, the senator sweetens the pot by suggesting the governor “threw a temper tantrum and double-crossed us” with the veto.

Inslee was clearly unhappy with the manufacturing tax cut that was slipped into the package in a post-midnight negotiating session, but his staff has repeatedly disputed the suggestion of a double cross. Legislators never asked for assurances he’d withhold the red pen and his budget negotiators never said all tax breaks would be signed. What people believed as they walked away from the secret session in the wee hours of the morning has been open to interpretation ever since.

Baumgartner is either unfamiliar with the adage that one gets more flies with honey than vinegar, or subscribes to the more earthy observation made in a pasture that if it’s flies you’re after, there’s plenty around the cow manure.

To support his belief that manufacturers need tax relief, he cited the announcement by Amazon that it would be looking for a second city for a co-headquarters. As if Amazon has a factory somewhere in the state that spits out the gazillion items it offers to ship buyers in two days for free with Prime membership.

Asked for a comment about Baumgartner’s call to arms, Inslee’s spokesman replied that “the office does not have a reaction or a response.”

That isn’t likely to change in the foreseeable future, Chase Gallagher wrote in an email. “But if you’d like to know if the office has a reaction or a response on the need for a special session to pass a capital budget, I would be happy to oblige.”

Well, duh. With Inslee spending part of his post-session summer meandering around Washington to denounce the lack of a capital budget, it’s obvious he’d call a special session in a heartbeat if assured lawmakers would vote on the capital construction budget. But for Baumgartner and other Senate Republicans, a deal on the capital budget requires a deal on a change to the state’s water rights laws to allow more wells to be drilled for residential development in some suburban and rural areas.

The capital construction budget has near unanimous support. The water law changes remain, at best, a work in progress.

Up the Amazon

In response to Baumgartner’s description of woes suffered by Washington’s manufacturing industry, a total of 50,000 fewer jobs since 2000, Gallagher sent a link to a recent story by CNBC that named Washington the nation’s top state for doing business.

A short time later, Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, sent out a missive of his own on the Amazon announcement, noting it had mentioned the company is looking for a “stable and business-friendly environment” for HQ No. 2. The company must be worried about various taxes proposed by Inslee and Seattle city government, he contended.

“First Boeing, now Amazon,” Schoesler said. “The CNBC network recently ranked Washington as 32nd for the cost of doing business, just days after the governor vetoed the Legislature’s bipartisan effort to set a flat fair tax rate for manufacturers.”

Wait, what?

One gets accustomed to a plethora of state rankings by different organizations, so it’s not unusual for Washington near the top in one group’s business survey, middling in another and toward the bottom in a third. But did CNBC rank Washington first or 32nd?

Depends on what you want to use to bolster your argument. CNBC divided 60 different measurements among 10 categories given different weight. One of those categories is “cost of doing business”, which includes state tax climate, but also state incentives, wages, utility costs and rent.

Washington ranked 32nd in that category. But the data was being crunched in June, when the manufacturing tax break wasn’t even a known factor in budget talks, so tying that ranking to Inslee’s veto a month later is a stretch.

When all 10 categories were added together, Washington came out on top, even though it didn’t finish first in any individual category. You can decide for yourself if you put more credence in the stat Schoesler cited, or the one Inslee likes.