Local issues saw action in Olympia

New rules for CRC; effort to end sales tax exemption dies

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian assistant metro editor

Published:

 

The Columbia River Crossing project received new regulations, proposals to repeal nonresidential sales tax were defeated, and Southwest Washington lawmakers had both hits and misses during the regular 60-day legislative session that ended late Thursday night.

In the final hours of Thursday, a proposal to help pay for all-day kindergarten with revenue gained from repealing the nonresidential sales tax exemption failed to receive enough votes in the House.

How local bills fared

See what local bills passed, failed during legislative session.

Repealing the tax exemption for out-of-state residents, such as Oregon shoppers, would have collected an estimated $26 million each year to help Washington meet its goal of raising the $176 million it needs to provide all-day schooling to all kindergartners by 2018.

The bill was defeated when 51 representatives voted for the bill and 47 voted against it. Under state law, any legislation that increases taxes must be approved by a two-thirds vote rather than a simple majority. Or, it must include a referendum clause that would make voter approval mandatory for the legislation to pass.

“The sales-tax exemption is one of the top complaints I hear from my constituents,” state Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, said in a news release on Friday. “It’s grossly unfair that Oregonians wedge an undue tax edge in Washington” because Washingtonians working in Oregon must pay the Oregon income tax, added Moeller, one of several co-sponsors of the bill.

Those opposing House Bill 2791 said it would hurt businesses in border towns, such as Vancouver, that compete with neighboring states for customers.

“One Vancouver business that sells signs attributes 40 percent of their sales to Oregon,” Washington Retail Association lobbyist Mark Johnson told legislators during a public hearing last month. “A downtown Vancouver antique store says 50 percent of her business comes from Oregon customers.”

Oregonians buying vehicles in Washington wouldn’t have had to pay sales tax.

Earlier in the 60-day legislative session, Sen. Cheryl Pflug, R-Maple Valley, introduced a bill that would make out-of-state shoppers pay retail sales tax, with the option to have the state’s portion of the sales tax refunded to them later. Senate Bill 6061 appeared dead at the end of the regular session, having stalled in the Senate Ways and Means Committee following a public hearing in late January.

That bill would have raised about $18 million in state revenue. The state collects 6.5 percent tax on retail purchases and the city of Vancouver collects an additional retail sales tax of 1.7 percent.

CRC changes

Transportation officials working on the megaproject to replace the Interstate 5 Bridge over the Columbia River got lawmaker permission this session to establish tolls as a way to help pay for it.

But the bill granting the authority to toll did come with some caveats. An amendment to the bill was added to prohibit tolling on nearby Interstate 205. Another amendment puts a roughly $3.4 billion spending cap on the project, although that cap could always be adjusted by lawmakers later.

Additionally, an amendment creating a legislative oversight committee for the project was added to the state’s supplemental transportation budget. The oversight group would be a subcommittee within the Legislature’s Joint Transportation Committee. It would consist of four lawmakers, one citizen and one gubernatorial appointee.

The transportation budget and the tolling authority bill now go to the governor for her signature.

Rep. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, who introduced the I-205 amendment and the oversight amendment on the House side, said Friday that she was proud of what she and other lawmakers had accomplished this session, but that too much time was spent on legislation to allow same-sex marriage.

“It felt a lot like we mowed the lawn as the house was burning down,” Rivers said. “We decided to take up social issues. Those issues are important and deserve to be heard, but not at the expense of getting our budget squared away.”

More bill outcomes

Many proposals by Southwest Washington lawmakers stalled toward the end of the session, as the bills took a back seat to debates about the supplemental operating budget. Legislators were tasked this session with fixing a $1.1 billion hole in the budget, but because they couldn’t come to a budget agreement by the end of Thursday, they will need to reconvene at noon Monday for a special session.

The shake-up in the Senate last week that allowed minority Republicans to advance their own budget proposal created a delay that caused a few of Moeller’s measures to die. One was his proposal to create a beer and wine license for single-screen movie houses such as downtown Vancouver’s Kiggins Theatre.

Also dead are Moeller’s proposal to create a voluntary alert program for disabled drivers, and his bill to suspend the licenses of health care professionals who are being investigated for neglect or abuse of a vulnerable adult.

Meanwhile, a bill by state Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, to reform the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association is on its way to the governor’s desk for a signature. The proposal eases penalties the WIAA imposes on students when a rule violation is made by an adult, such as a coach or administrator.

The WIAA could still penalize student athletes if they gained a significant competitive advantage from the rule violation, though.

The bill was prompted by events at King’s Way Christian School in Vancouver, where a scheduling error made by an administrator disqualified the undefeated girls’ volleyball team from playing in the state tournament last year.

Although the regular session has ended, state Rep. Tim Probst, D-Vancouver, said he hopes he can still push his economic reform proposal, dubbed the “Career Pathways Act,” during the special session. In special sessions, lawmakers can continue to work on bills from the regular session and introduce new legislation, although bills from the regular session must start again from their house of origin.

Gov. Chris Gregoire has advised lawmakers to focus solely on the budget during the special session, and to try to finish well ahead of the 30 days allowed for the session.

Probst’s economic reform proposal, House Bill 2170, would require public schools to place a greater emphasis on student career paths that don’t necessarily require four-year degrees, instead making use of technical degrees or trade apprenticeships. Probst says it makes economic sense to provide different types of career plans for students based on their skill sets, and that not all students need to earn a four-year degree to land good-paying jobs.

Probst tried to remind lawmakers of his bill during the final days of session by suggesting it be amended to the budget plan, and then withdrawing the amendment.

“I just want to make sure it doesn’t get lost,” he said Friday.

Reflecting on the 2012 legislative session, Probst said things need to change in Olympia.

“We need to find more bipartisanship,” Probst said. If lawmakers had more cooperation from the beginning of the session, they could have been done by now, he added.

Stevie Mathieu: 360-735-4523 or stevie.mathieu@columbian.com or www.facebook.com/reportermathieu or www.twitter.com/col_politics.