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Wilcox: “The other side is running out of steam”

House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox (R – Yelm) says his caucus has managed to rein in Democratic legislation this session, preventing the majority from passing some of their more left-leaning policy ideas

Ahead of the March 9th house of origin cutoff, Democrats have managed to pass bills on stated priorities like the Low Carbon Fuel Standard and police reform. While the bills passed in the end, Wilcox says they haven’t garnered broad support and have in some cases been watered down significantly.

At a legislative update Tuesday hosted by the Washington Policy Center, the Minority Leader said:

It kinda feels like the other side is running out of steam a little bit … Over here [in the House] I would say they made the greatest effort on environment and on police tactics. We had those debates, they saved probably the two toughest debates of the first half of the year for Saturday. And that’s because they don’t really want a lot of coverage of that debate because it tarnishes their image a little bit to find out that the Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) is anything but progressive, it actually is about as regressive as it can get. It’s one of those things they can ignore because the regressivity comes in most strongly outside the central Puget Sound area.”

Wilcox says it is telling that the majority leader and deputy majority leader are among the five Democrats who voted against the LCFS.

One thing that’s interesting is the number of Democrat votes to vote that out of the House has gone down every year over the last three years. This time I think they came out with 52 votes, which means that five of them peeled, including their majority leader and their deputy majority leader, which is a little bit tough in caucus. When you have your leadership voting against your caucus, I think that is a signal that there is a fair amount of disarray.”

On the bill that bans certain police use-of-force tactics, Wilcox says it might be watered down in the Senate to such an extent that it would be considered a symbolic victory for new members. Wilcox says his caucus supported preserving those police tactics while making it “less likely that those tools will be misused.” One Republican, Rep. Bruce Chandler, voted for the bill.

When asked about the Republican efforts to halt the capital gains tax bills moving through the Legislature, Wilcox says alerting “wealthy progressives” to the “consequences for them and for the economy and for the Seattle area” would be key to steering legislative Democrats in a different direction.

They don’t care about what chubby middle-aged farmers think. They care about what wealthy progressives think. That’s their bread and butter – wealthy progressives. And a lot of those people are involved in business.”

At a press briefing Tuesday, Rep. Noel Frame (D – Seattle) said a capital gains tax is necessary to ensure programs are paid for in an equitable manner.

We should ask [the wealthy] to fund economic recovery, not the people who have literally lost their jobs, lost their health care, and are struggling to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads. I do not think it’s acceptable that we would ask those folks to fund economic recovery, whether it’s now or 18 months from now, while not asking some of the wealthiest people in the world to share equitably in funding economic recovery.”

But with a sizable stimulus package moving through Congress, Wilcox says that funding economic recovery will not be hampered by a lack of resources.

We don’t have a problem of scarce resources. We have a problem of an overwhelming horn of plenty that is going to create the temptation to build new programs that will make it immediately unsustainable, even based on the desire of Democratic budget and tax writers.”

“I think it’s making a lot of them very, very nervous that there are more resources than we can really use, and they gotta be darn sure they divert these [federal dollars] into one times uses, because if you stand them up into programs, even Democrats can’t write tax bills that will support the resulting down the road budgets,” Wilcox continued.

When asked by the need for passing a capital gains tax this session given the impending influx of federal dollars, Frame says the stimulus will allow the state to fund critical needs while implementing new measures over time to fix the regressivity of the tax code.

It is the exact right moment because we have more federal funding coming, fingers crossed, to operate as a bridge so that right now we can pass this bill, put it into effect immediately and start the process of implementing it. It is going to take some time to stand up that program,” said Frame.

The Senate version of the capital gains tax will be pulled from the Rules Committee Wednesday, paving the way for a floor vote this week.

Wilcox says he sees a generational chasm within the Democratic caucuses. He says that common ground could be found between Republicans and “old fashioned FDR Democrat[s),” but the incentivize for bucking the party is limited.

“They actually have a lot in common with us in terms of what they want for people. But this two-generation stretch of single-party government means that nobody rocks the boat.”

Despite his criticisms, Wilcox also said Tuesday that a moment of political reflection is warranted on both sides.

I don’t like to lump everybody into this group of evil Democrats. I don’t believe that. Individually, a lot of them are great but we have developed a system in Washington that doesn’t allow them to express themselves and it’s hard to look in the mirror regardless of which party you’re in. I think every Republican is questioning, ‘How can I keep doing this. How can I be part of the system?’ And I would think in this state that Democrats with a conscience should feel the same way.”

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