Gov. Jay Inslee makes push for his budget plan, GOP not on board

Gov. Jay Inslee largely focused on his proposed budget for the 2017 State of the State.

Though he touched on the economy, mental health care and national politics, most of the speech was centered on how he wants to use tax increases (including a new carbon tax, a capital gains tax and a hike on the business and occupation tax) to bring in $4.4 billion in tax revenue through 2019. Nearly $3 billion would help close the gap in school funding, he said.

Inslee acknowledged his proposal has been criticized, but said property taxes would go down for more than 75 percent of property owners and businesses, and that his capital gains hike would impact only the top 1 percent of residents.

“If we do it this way, we’ll accomplish two things: First, we will finally have the resources we need to fulfill our constitutional obligation to fully fund K-12 education,” Inslee said in the address. “Second, working families will pay less in property taxes. I just don’t think raising property or sales taxes is the best approach to this challenge.”

Toward the closing of his speech he called for bipartisan work to fund education.

“There are many routes to the summit. My plan isn’t the only way. I’ve been meeting with legislators this week and want to hear the ideas you have for getting this done,” he said in the address. “It’s important to act this year. Kids are only 5 years old once in their lives. If we don’t do this for them now, they don’t get a redo.”

Republicans respond

Inslee’s proposed budget was announced in December, but Republicans didn’t bite, and weren’t swayed by his calls for bipartisanship Wednesday.

“I thought it was plain to everybody that those pieces at the end – after a long speech where he referenced bipartisanship quite a bit – were just clearly partisan shots and were intended to be red meat for his side,” said Rep. J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, at a press conference after the address.

From left Republican lawmakers Sen. Randi Becker, Sen Mark Schoesler, Rep. Dan Kristiansen and Rep. J.T. Wilcox appear at a press conference to respond to Gov. Jay Inslee’s State of the State address Wednesday, Photo: Erin Fenner.

Wilcox went on to criticize the governor’s stance on using a levy swap to alleviate the disparities in school funding.

A levy swap, which would raise taxes in more affluent districts and reduce taxes in more impoverished districts, had bipartisan backing, but Inslee openly opposed the plan, as explained in this article by Jim Brunner for The Seattle Times in 2015.

“Today the governor paid lip service to ‘there might be alternate paths’ but he did his best to close off a few of them too, right?” Wilcox said at the press conference. “…But I thought it was a mistake to then demonize any kind of levy reform because that’s the one approach that we can take that actually addresses tax reform in a way that provides some relief to the people that need it the most.”

Rep. Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, followed up on that issue and said that high population areas in the state get preferential treatment over rural areas.

“If we’re going to talk about fairness, then why is it that the most affluent parts of the state…pay, by far, the least amount when it comes to their school as a portion of their taxes?” he said at the press conference. “Yes, in King County property taxes are exorbitantly high, but look at the school portion of it and then compare the school portion of it to the most depressed parts of the states with the lowest median incomes. You want to talk about a regressive tax, my goodness, it is by far the most regressive tax system we have.”

Kristiansen said that members from the House will meet the last week of January to evaluate data relevant to education funding plans they are considering.

Erin Fenner: erin@washingtonstatewire.com, @erinfenner

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