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WashingtonVotes NEWS: Friday, February 21, 2020

State lawmakers focus on boosting state spending, as tax collections are on track to increase by another $1.1 billion

As lawmakers continued to pass hundreds of bills ahead of Wednesday’s cut-off deadline, the state Economic and Revenue Forecast Council released its latest tax revenue projections for the 2019-21, and 2021-23 state budget cycles.

The numbers show that tax collections will increase by about $606 million above projections, bringing total state spending for this biennium to about $52.3 billion. For the next two-year period, which ends July 2023, projections are up by another $536 billion to $55.7 billion.

Majority Democrats in the House and Senate said that they will unveil their respective supplemental budget proposals sometime next week. The chief budget writer for the House, Rep. Tim Ormsby (D-Spokane) said that the forecast is “certainly good news,” and that Democrats would make “improvements in homelessness, housing, early learning, and mental health programs.”

Bills introduced by key Democrats in the House and Senate on Wednesday indicate that majority Democrats not only plan to spend all of the new surplus, but want to raise taxes even more. HB 2945 and SB 6690 would repeal the tax rate preferences for The Boeing Company and would increase business taxes on hundreds of firms in the aerospace industry. Public hearings on these bills are scheduled for next week.

Republican Rep. Ed Orcutt (R-Kalama) noted that most of the projected increases in state revenue are being generated by significant property tax increases. “I think the housing market has outperformed what any of us expected,” he said. “Because of this additional revenue being generated by property taxes, we should be looking at some property tax relief.” Republicans have long supported a cut in the state property tax.

House Republicans, led by Rep. Drew Stokesbary (R-Auburn) introduced a one billion dollar tax relief package on Wednesday, following release of the new forecast numbers. HB 2946, co-sponsored by 40 Republicans, would roll back car tab fees to $30 —as called for by the voter-approved initiative now tied up in the courts. The bill would also eliminate the sales tax on prepared food items sold at grocery stores, and on personal necessities, such as feminine hygiene products, breast pumps and diapers.

“The great part about providing tax relief is it will benefit the hard-working people who do live in areas outside of the Puget Sound who might not have a high-paying tech job, but are still struggling to make ends meet,” Stokesbary said.

Bills that were sent to the opposite chamber after last Wednesday’s cut-off deadline are now under consideration in House and Senate Committees and must be approved before the next deadline of February 28th. Interestingly, a bill to ban high capacity gun magazines (HB 2240) that died because it failed to make the cut-off, has come back to life as a new, budget-related measure. HB 2947 was introduced today by the same sponsors as the failed HB 2240. The new bill is eligible for continued consideration, because it is a “budget-related” measure that is exempt from cut-off deadlines.

HB 2240 did make it out of committee and unto the floor last week, but a slate of 128 amendments proposed by Republicans would have taken too much time to consider and vote on. Consequently, the bill was “tabled,” i.e. not further considered before time ran out.

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