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Morning Wire: Messaging capital gains, Gary Locke, Rep. Alex Ramel

My old friend Sen. Paull Shinn once explained to me: “Ninety percent of people in Olympia play defense. Only nine percent can play offense. But only one percent can play in the budget.”

These are the days where the scope of the session will begin to narrow. As bills funnel through their second chamber, soon the budget will be all that’s left. Those first drafts are expected to be out as soon as next week. So begins a process that is usually fast paced and rapid, with day-long hearings ahead of quick executive sessions and floor votes. We’ll see if that slows down a bit via Zoom, and if advocates can get their amendments heard in a timely way. This will be the true test of how good your lobbying work is.

1.  This revenue forecast was actually a mixed bag

I don’t believe there has ever been a revenue forecast in state history with as much new revenue from the previous forecast: “$1.340 billion in the 2019-21 biennium, $1.949 billion in the 2021-23 biennium and $1.899 billion in the 2023-25 biennium.” That may be the topline story you’ll read elsewhere. But, buried in the 45-page report, however, are some nuggets of concern which speak to the continued K-shaped recovery.

For example, small businesses forecast a revenue contraction of 8% over the next quarter, the lowest level since the initial economic hit a year ago. Overall employment is down 2.6%, or 87,600 jobs lower in February than expected in the November forecast. Washington exports are down for a ninth straight quarter, despite increases in agricultural products. Projections for personal income growth for 2022 fell from 3.7% to 1.1%. Overall employment is expected to grow in 2021 by 1.7%, down from the previous forecast of 3.5%.

My takeaway from reading the report: we are not out of the woods in this recovery by a long shot.

2. Fixing the Dems messaging problem on capital gains

The primary reasons offered for a capital gains tax weaken with every new revenue forecast. The initial logic of a revenue shortfall morphed recently into the need for new investments. But those may ring hollow with a now-projected $3bn in the bank at the end of the biennium.

So, I argue it’s time to level with voters. Tell the truth, Democrats. The truth is that you believe the tax code is unfair and hinders the success of working families for the benefit of the top 1%. So, I suggest that Dems should make that argument, and prove it: offset all the revenue from the capital gains tax with targeted deductions in the sales tax.  You don’t need the revenue with $3bn in the bank. Make this revenue neutral, about tax reform rather than revenue. Moms with kids on Medicaid? No state sales tax for you. Unemployed for more than 13 weeks? No state sales tax for you. 

This will make the overall tax system even fairer than the capital gains tax alone. It’ll offset the fiscal note, while creating a more coherent, honest, and compelling narrative as to why you’re doing this. If the question at the ballot box is “Should I repeal the tax deduction for moms and kids to save gazillionaires some dough?” that seems a better electoral ground to play on than the current course you’re on. 

3. Q&A: Rep. Alex Ramel, D-40th LD

Reporter Sydney Kurle caught up with Rep. Alex Ramel to talk through his first long session. He was appointed in January, 2020, and won election in the fall. Ramel talked through two of his bills that moved out of the House, both environmentally minded. HB 1280 requires the state to consider greenhouse gas emissions in the design of publicly owned buildings. HB 1287 requires WSDOT to develop a forecasting tool for the number of electric vehicles on the road so that infrastructure planners can plan for a future with only electric cars on the road. 

“I’ll be honest, I was surprised that we didn’t get more bipartisan support on HB 1280… It costs no money at all, the fiscal note on that bill is zero… Especially with a bill that doesn’t get a lot of scrutiny, folks might vote based on just what the bill title says and not really look at the details. I think if you look at the details, this is one that warrants bipartisan support.”

4.  Gary Locke for Seattle mayor?

Gary Locke has been one of Washington State’s most successful political figures: a state legislator, appropriations chairman, King County Executive, twice-elected governor, Ambassador to China and Secretary of Commerce. He is currently the Interim President at Bellevue College, though I’m sure joining us at Re-Wire a few years ago was his most valued recent professional highlight. 

Is he now thinking about running for Seattle mayor? There is some buzz around the idea among political consultants eyeing the 2021 mayoral primary. His entry would re-shape the race. And, since there isn’t yet an institutional candidate in the race, drawing in the broad support of progressive funders, Locke’s entry could galvanize that wing of the party apparatus, almost assuredly putting him into the general election.

5.  A “frankly kind of boring dude who works well with others” 

A year or so ago, in the before-times, I was making the argument to a friend that if Inslee wanted a third term, he should tell the voters why.  I argued that the position was more important than ever, and that the opportunity shouldn’t be wasted. My friend, a progressive, responded “In this time of Trump and economic uncertainty, I’d much rather have someone who knows how to do the job than someone who knows what they want to do with it.” 

Such was the feel of a recent article comparing Inslee to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. It argues that Inslee is a competent, if “boring” governor, compared to the “bully” who was incompetent. Inslee “finishing up arguably the best pandemic response record of any governor in the country,” says the article.

We are all grumpy after a year in a pandemic. But, more of us are alive today because of Inslee’s “boring,” “competent” role as governor than would be the case, perhaps, if Andrew Cuomo were governor of Washington State. So, kudos to a job well done so far, Governor. It may not have been a perfect year, but it seems much better than the alternative.

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