In Our View: Local Clout in Olympia?
We'll find out, as Clark County lawmakers chase sales-tax rebate
Monday, February 4, 2013
This much is certain about the nine people representing Clark County's three main legislative districts:They're relatively balanced, ideologically, with five Republicans and four Democrats.
They carry diverse professional portfolios, with a nice mix of private-sector success and public service.
They include five women and four men, collectively possessing key contacts in dozens of local arenas, both rural and urban.
There is a modicum of seniority and leadership potential, with a couple of the local lawmakers holding titles near the top of caucus hierarchies.
There are also steep learning curves facing several newcomers, as the group includes four rookies.
However, one huge uncertainty remains: Do these folks carry any clout to speak of? We'll find out as the session progresses, but one measurement would be Senate Bill 5325, which promises great financial gain for Clark County but virtually no benefit for the rest of the state. In fact, if passed, SB 5325 and its companion House Bill 1553 would cost the state about $4 million yearly while generating no new revenue.
The bills would allow Clark to join the 32 of the state's 39 counties that are designated as distressed rural counties -- which receive rebates of various amounts on the state's sales tax. The money here would be used, according to the new bill's language, "to finance public facilities serving economic development purposes." That could mean about $4 million annually (some unofficial projections are up to $7 million) for local agencies.
But as mentioned, there would be no new source for this money. Legislative bean-counters would simply have to find the money somewhere in the state budget. Be advised, they're already facing a projected biennial budget shortfall of about $1 billion, plus unknown millions in new costs to meet a legal mandate to fully fund K-12 education.
Two words on selling all of this to other legislators around the state: Good luck.
But if they can pull it off, credit the local lawmakers with amassing and flexing abundant clout, especially for a fairly inexperienced group. Clark County doesn't qualify as "rural," but local lawmakers say we're "distressed" because we're adjacent to a state that has no sales tax. That's a strong argument, in Southwest Washington at least. We'll see if it sells in Olympia.
The local delegation — with support from a few other legislators in neighboring districts — is making slight progress already, having determined bill sponsors. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, introduced the bill in the Senate. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, introduced the House bill. And other local legislators are setting aside partisan interests and striking rare accord in the quest to find more money for our community. County officials estimate we lost $28.45 million in 2012 in sales tax revenue because of business that "leaked" to sales-tax-free Oregon.
It's only fair we get some of that money back as a "distressed" county. Convincing other legislators from distant cities to come to our rescue, however, looms as a formidable task, to say the least.