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Q&A: Rep. Ed Orcutt talks taxes, police bills, special session

Rep. Ed Orcutt represents Washington’s 20th Legislative District. He also serves as the ranking minority member on the House of Representatives’ Finance Committee. Orcutt is concerned with taxes, the impacts of police reform bills that passed during the 2021 session, and supports calls to convene a special session this year. 

The Washington State Wire spoke with him on these issues for this Q&A.

Aaron Kunkler: One of the hot-button issue people are talking about right now is the WA Cares Fund. The public long-term care fund, which Washington residents pay into at a rate of 58 cents per $100 earned, is set to begin collecting payroll taxes in January. You’ve expressed concerns about the bill, what are they?

Rep. Ed Orcutt: As you know, I opposed that bill when it passed in 2019. I’m concerned about government intrusion into what should really be the private sector. People need to make decisions on their own as to whether or not they get long-term care insurance. I don’t think this is something they should be mandating, and I don’t think they should be automatically taking it out of people’s checks. 

It’s also concerning that if you want to go and exercise your option to go with a private policy, you have to get approval from the state to do it, to opt out and to not be taxed. That’s very concerning. One of the other concerns that I have is you’ve got people that are later in their careers, and they’ve got to be paying in for a certain number of years. But what if they retire before that, all the money they’ve paid in, they get no benefit from?. It’s really a false security, because the amount they say sounds like a lot of money, but when you start getting long-term care, that doesn’t last very long.

AK: What potential legislative fixes or adjustments would you like to see?

EO: Well, I’m gonna sit down and talk with our lead on this and see what kinds of things that we can do. But I’m really concerned that once this is implemented, then the majority can jack up the amount of deduction from people’s paychecks and just raise taxes that way. What kind of protections are there for the citizens that are mandated to pay into this bond and whether they’re going to be able to get any benefit from it? 

AK: As the ranking minority member on the Finance Committee, what are you thinking about?

EO: I’m really concerned about the capital gains income tax that was passed last year, despite the fact that we’ve got huge amounts of revenue coming in our revenue forecast. If you look at what’s happened to our budget in a three year span, we went from a $44.4 billion budget to a $58.9 billion budget in a three year period. That’s a huge increase. We certainly didn’t need to add taxes to get it up to that. I’m concerned about the impact that’s going to have on those who currently do business in our state, and certainly those who were otherwise looking to do business in our state, who are no longer looking to locate their business in Washington. Those are good businesses with good paying jobs that pay taxes and benefits and businesses, we should be encouraging to come in. But unfortunately, when you do something like this, you discourage people from making investments in our state. You know, with the amount of money that we’ve got coming in, we really should have been doing more for property tax relief. 

AK: What legislation would you like to see in the 2022 session to address taxes in Washington state?

EO: One thing that we could do is just lower the levy amount. If we just lowered that overall amount [of property taxes], then that would be a spread across the assessed valuation and the state. Now we’ll provide property tax relief to a much broader group of individuals and employers than what we’ve seen in the past. We’ve done some things for seniors and the disabled, we’ve done some things for lower income, but we haven’t done anything for middle income. We have very small business owners, and that is something that we could do that would actually help the small businesses, as well as middle class taxpayers.

AK: There’s been a lot of talk about policing laws (here and here) concerning acceptable use of force tactics and equipment that passed last session. There have been calls from Republican leadership to hold a special session to modify them. What are your thoughts on that?

EO: I’m really concerned with the restrictions that have been put on our police officers. One, it’s making it harder for them to apprehend suspects, and to do it in a non lethal manner. We need to make sure that we’re looking out for our officers and looking out for their safety, and making sure they have the safest means possible of apprehending suspects. And I think that some of the bills that passed this year took away some of the non-lethal tools they had, and is making it very difficult for them to do that. Some suspects are getting away as a result. That means criminals that would have been taken off the street are still out on the streets, [were given] short sentences and let people out of prison early. 

AK: Are there any specific changes you’d like to see to the policing bills?

EO: I just want to work with some of my colleagues and fix the problems and make these bills work in a way that the officers can do their jobs, and their jobs are to protect and serve. Right now we’re making it hard for them to do the protect portion of that. We need to go back and look at those bills and figure out what needed to be done to deal with excess force, but not take away tools that actually help prevent use of greater force. 

AK: Do you think a special session is likely this year?

EO: I think it’s really gonna depend on the public and the public’s expressing enough concerns over things like the policing bill and the Long Term Care Act. What kind of tax? Are they concerned about having their paychecks tax? Are they concerned about protecting their property? Are they concerned about whether or not the police can respond and apprehend a suspect and get criminals off the street? I think if people realize some of the real dangers that are out there, as they see what the real dangers are out there, it’s my hope that they’ll be expressing those concerns to their representatives and to the governor. I know I’m hearing from my constituents that they’re concerned about the impact these policing bills will have — I should call them anti-policing bills — will have on their safety, the safety of their families, the security of their property. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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