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WashingtonVotes NEWS: Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Local income taxes, raising school levy limits, universal health care for state residents highlight legislative agenda this week.

State lawmakers are busy this week moving legislation in time for Friday’s deadline, the last day for bills to be considered by policy committees in their house of origin. Bills that don’t make the cut-off are likely dead for the session.

However, Senate Democratic leaders have already declared one bill dead. SB 5784 would have exempted the Legislature from major provisions of the state’s Public Records Law. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Jamie Pederson (D-Seattle) said the proposal was shelved after strong pushback by open-government advocates during a hearing last week.

Budget and transportation related measures will continue to be considered until the next cut-off date of March 1st. That is the last day for bills to pass the fiscal and transportation committees in their house of origin.

Senate Democratic Majority Vice Chair Bob Hasegawa (D-Seattle) introduced a bill to allow cities to impose local income taxes. SB 5928 would repeal a 1984 state law that prohibits local governments from enacting income taxes and allow them to impose an income tax if they reduce other local taxes first.

Sen. Hasegawa also sponsored SB 5541, to create a task force to study the state tax structure and recommend reforms, which could include imposing a state income tax. A graduated income tax has been repeatedly found to be unconstitutional by the state supreme court, and over the years voters have rejected it at the polls eleven times, most recently in 2010.

Majority Democrats on the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee on Friday passed SB 5313, which could lead to higher property taxes and bring back many of the inequalities that resulted in the state supreme court’s “McCleary” school-finance ruling. The legislature put a new school funding system in place in 2017 to comply with the court’s ruling, increasing the state property tax while limiting how much school districts could raise through local levies.

SB 5313, sponsored by Sen. Lisa Wellman (D-Mercer Island), would allow a school district to choose between a levy lid of either 20 percent of its levy base or $3,500 per pupil. Under the system put in place in 2017, local levies are limited to the lesser of $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed property values or $2,500 per student, with state funding making up the rest.

Sen. John Braun (R-Centralia), one of the leaders who crafted the education-funding reforms in 2017, said allowing districts to raise more in local taxes would create the kind of inequalities that led to the McCleary lawsuit in the first place. Under SB 5313, wealthier school districts, would receive a disproportional benefit.

On Monday, the Senate Health and Long Term Care Committee held a public hearing on SB 5822, sponsored by Sen. Emily Randall (D-Bremerton), to study how a universal health-care system could be imposed in Washington state.

The House Committee on Health Care and Wellnesss passed HB 1523 last Friday to create a new “public option” health-care plan under Washington’s health-insurance exchange. The plan was proposed earlier this year by Governor Inslee and Democratic lawmakers, who said they would use it as a first step to universal health care in this state. The companion measure, SB 5526, was scheduled for executive session in the Senate Health and Long Term Care Committee on Tuesday.

Keep up with developments in Olympia by visiting washingtonvotes.org and follow us on Facebook and Twitter #waleg.

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