In Our View: Try Other Ideas, Please

Some legislators' early suggestions for budget relief are not so impressive



Washingtonians should hope their legislators are saving their best ideas for last, because some of the early proposals coming out of the Legislature are nothing about which to write home.Both political parties seem to be guilty of eye-roll-inducing proposals in their desperate race to resolve a projected budget shortfall of about $1 billion (not to mention millions more that could be required to meet the state Supreme Court mandate to fully fund K-12 education.)

Currently ranking atop the “You Gotta Be Kidding” standings is state Senate Democratic Leader Ed Murray, who is trying to pump life back into the capital-gains-tax carcass. As reported recently by The Seattle Times’ Andrew Garber, Murray is considering a new approach to an old idea of a 5 percent excise tax on capital gains (excluding the sale of a principal residence). This tax has failed to gain traction in previous legislative sessions, and with Republicans now controlling the coalition majority in the state Senate, there’s even less chance a capital-gains-tax bill will advance out of committee. Furthermore, Gov. Jay Inslee has said he would veto any new tax. But Murray says he’ll try a different approach: Take the idea to the voters. If they approve a capital gains tax, it wouldn’t need legislative or gubernatorial approval.

If his scheme ever does go to the voters, however, the Washington Policy Center will loudly repeat a message it politely dispatched Monday, citing the fiscal note from the 2011-2012 bill, which explained in part: “Capital gains are extremely volatile from year to year. Revenue from this proposal will depend entirely on fluctuations in the financial markets and can be expected to vary greatly from the amounts presented here.” Ouch! That doesn’t sound like a logical way to solve the state’s budget woes.

Murray says, “We need to put some ideas on the table. If not this idea, then another idea.” Our choice is easy: another idea, please.

Challenging Murray atop the “You Gotta Be Kidding” standings is Republican state Rep. Jan Angel, who is “trying to think out of the box” and suggests selling naming rights to public facilities. High on her list is the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. We’re not necessarily saying this is a bad idea, but the experience of other states indicates proceeds wouldn’t make much of a dent in the budget shortfall. Virginia sold GEICO the naming rights of all 43 of the state’s rest areas — for $2 million a year.

Before we start naming bridges and buildings after products and companies, consider this opinion from Robert Weissman, president of Washington, D.C.-based Public Citizen: “The problem is, it’s not money for nothing. … It erases the important and appropriate divide between the commercial sphere and the civil sphere and communicates a message that everything is for sale.”

Again, we recognize this might raise a few million, but more serious solutions should be considered first. That’s why voters send lawmakers to Olympia. Washingtonians need more emphasis from legislators on solid efficiency gains and government reforms instead of the politicians’ just dreaming up new ways to rake in more money.