By Chris Cargill
With the new year comes new opportunities for leaders of Washington state to get public policy right.
There are several key issues that need the attention of state and local lawmakers. If things are to get better, these are the headlines Washingtonians should see in 2022.
“Legislature returns to normal democracy”
In an emergency, governors need broad powers to act fast. Legislative bodies inevitably take longer to act than a single executive, so they temporarily give more power to the executive. The key safeguard here is “temporary.” Normal democracy should only be suspended for a limited period of time.
Yet we have had nearly 700 days of one-man rule in Washington state, thanks to Governor Jay Inslee’s declared pandemic emergency.
After a set period the governor should receive permission from the legislative branch to continue making far-reaching policies by press conference. Like many other states, we need a 30-day limit on emergency power, which can then be extended as needed by the legislature.
No matter how much you might agree with a governor, our system is not meant to be the arbitrary rule of one.
“School choice advanced in Washington state”
At least 30 states have recently advanced school choice options for families. Washington has not.
School choice programs operate on the same moral principle used in subsidized housing.
In the last legislative session, Ritzville Sen. Mark Schoesler introduced a bill that would have offered $15,000 tax credit scholarships to help the families of special needs students and students in foster care pay the cost of private schools.
In the state House, Rep. Vicki Kraft would have provided 130,000 families up to $7,000 each in Education Opportunity Scholarships in the form of an individualized Education Savings Account.
Both of these school choice bills were killed in committee.
This is hurting children in our state – specifically low-income, minority children, who are assigned to failing schools simply based on their ZIP codes. This must change. More than 50,000 families have already left public education here in Washington state. If lawmakers don’t take the necessary steps to fund students instead of systems, the voters will.
“Troubled long-term care tax and program is repealed”
More than 430,000 Washingtonians have rejected the state’s stab at a socialized long-term-care program.
Starting on Jan. 1, all Washington workers who haven’t opted out will be forced to pay a payroll tax to fund the government plan. That money gets dumped into a one-size-fits-all entitlement with a paltry $36,500 lifetime benefit – barely enough to cover three months of long-term care needs. You can pay into the system for your entire life, and if you move out of state when you retire, you’ll receive $0 in benefits.
Even those living in Idaho but working in Washington must pay into the system, yet they get nothing.
Governor Jay Inslee says he wants to delay the unpopular plan. Instead of delay, it needs to be repealed.
“Appeals court overturns troubling transparency ruling”
Nearly 80% of Spokane voters approved a charter amendment in 2019 requiring collective bargaining talks between the city and its unions over government employee compensation be transparent and open to the public.
These contracts involve millions of dollars in taxpayer money – so it is not unusual that citizens would want transparency.
Unions, however, have resisted. It is easier to make outrageous and unsustainable demands for salary and benefits if no one is watching. They sued the city in August and were able to convince Spokane Superior Court Judge Tony Hazel to throw out the law entirely.
Judge Hazel’s speech was bizarre and rambling – more of a political speech than a ruling on the facts and the law. Based on errors in his ruling, it should be overturned. Judges and unions shouldn’t have the final say on government transparency.
“Legislature cuts state sales tax”
$7.764 billion. That’s how much state revenue is projected to increase (over a four-year period). That’s nearly 8 billion reasons why lawmakers should consider finally providing broad-based tax relief next session.
While there are no bad tax relief options (property, B&O manufacturing parity, sales), with $7.764 billion available, a combination of tax relief could be provided while still leaving billions in reserves and a healthy four-year budget outlook.
If Washington state can’t provide broad-based tax relief with the current revenue forecast and budget outlook, it’s hard to see when it ever will.
Chris Cargill is the Eastern Washington director for Washington Policy Center, an independent research organization with offices in Spokane, Tri-Cities, Seattle and Olympia. Online at washingtonpolicy.org. Members of the Cowles family, owners of The Spokesman-Review, have previously hosted fundraisers for the Washington Policy Center, and sit on the organization’s board.