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Inslee urges new taxes in state of the state address

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee gives his annual state of the state speech on Tuesday to a joint session of the Washington Legislature in Olympia. (Associated Press)
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee gives his annual state of the state speech on Tuesday to a joint session of the Washington Legislature in Olympia. (Associated Press)

OLYMPIA – Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday repeated calls for some new taxes, including one on carbon pollution to secure “a birthright to a healthy Washington.”

Republican leaders countered that such a tax would be bad for business.

In his annual state of the state address, Inslee urged legislators to “reinvest in Washington” by spending more on education, the environment and what he termed vital services, including help for the homeless, health care, mental health facilities and public services. So much more that he’s urging the Legislature pass some new taxes to cover some of those costs.

He’d place a tax on carbon pollution, and a capital gains tax on some of the investment earnings the top 1 percent of the state’s taxpayers receive. Low-income residents already pay a much larger share of their income in taxes than the rich, he said.

“We can work toward a fairer tax system, and we should,” Inslee said. The line drew a standing ovation from Democrats in the packed chamber, but most Republican members sat quietly.

Republican leaders said later that whatever its flaws, Washington’s tax system worked better than most states in the recession and revenue from current tax rules is expected to bring in an extra $3 billion. Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton, insisted the state could balance its budget without new taxes and should set aside money for education programs first.

A tax on carbon pollution might discourage new companies from locating in Washington and force existing ones out, said Sen. Ann Rivers, R-Vancouver. Instead, the state should encourage business to expand conservation measures, using a carrot instead of a stick.

“Business has found conservation is good business,” Rivers said.

Republicans said they wouldn’t fight Inslee on every front, and were likely to find areas of agreement on some issues such as forest health and toxic cleanup. Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said Inslee has even adopted their position on freezing tuition at the state’s universities and colleges.

While Inslee’s budget calls for the Legislature to freeze tuition for the third year in a row, Rep. Timm Ormsby, D-Spokane, said he couldn’t predict whether that would happen.

Ormsby, the vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said he’s “extremely sympathetic” to state universities’ request for $200 million. Without providing additional revenue, he said, the state can’t truly aid higher education: “We cannot just freeze tuition. That helps students, but it does not maintain the integrity of world-class institutions.”

Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane, said Inslee’s plan offers additional aid on mental health care. The state is under a court order to make improvements on that front, and Riccelli said he hoped it would be a subject of agreement between the parties.

“Mental health is an issue that has no party affiliations,” he said, and the need for better care could be “the one thing everyone agrees on.”

As he has in previous speeches, Inslee called for the Legislature to pass a package of major transportation projects that would need some sort of new tax to pay for them. For the last two years, the Democratic-controlled House has approved such a plan, but Republicans in the Senate have balked and the plans died.

This year he’s again proposing a transportation package, one that he said transcends rivalries of “east versus west, urban versus rural or roads versus transit.”

Republicans, however, repeated a complaint they’ve had for several years, that it doesn’t do enough to reform the large transportation projects that have been plagued with problems, like the tunneling operation for the Alaskan Way replacement in Seattle where the boring machine has been stuck for more than a year.

While some Puget Sound motorists are angry about longer commute times, House Republican Leader Dan Kristiansen of Snohomish said his constituents are telling him “you guys are blowing my money” on failed projects.

Chad Sokol with the Murrow News Service contributed to this report.
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