Wednesday, March 22, 2023
March 22, 2023

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Sen. Wilson calls for tax relief in Washington budget proposals

By , Columbian staff writer

Washington House Republicans and Democrats released competing versions of their supplemental budget proposals on Monday. Criticism from each side quickly followed.

During a press conference Tuesday, state Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, was especially critical of Democrats for not including tax relief in their proposal.

“There’s no tax relief in this budget. We have inflation that’s at a 40-year high that’s creating financial issues for all of our people in Washington,” Wilson said. “There’s $15 billion in revenue in surplus, and they couldn’t find a way to put substantial and sustainable tax relief in that bill.”

Wilson said Republicans have been advocating for tax relief for two years but instead have only seen increases in spending.

“We showed last year that we could do this without raising taxes and not cutting any programs, and yet they couldn’t find a way to put tax relief in here,” she said.

The House Republican plan includes $4.85 billion over four years to fund signing and retention bonuses for police officers, body cameras, and law enforcement training. It would redirect sales tax paid on motor vehicles and transportation projects to the transportation budget.

To combat rising inflation, the GOP argues for reducing the state sales tax rate by 1 percent and repealing the Long Term Care Trust Act. The GOP’s plan also includes $380 million over four years in one-time assistance to lower income schools and COVID testing, response and vaccine access.

The House Republican plan also proposes lowering the business and occupation tax for manufacturing and trucking by 40 percent, expanding the existing tax preference for food processors and providing one-time grants to employment sectors especially hard hit by the pandemic, such as hotels and restaurants.

During the press conference, 20th District state Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, took aim at a tax on fuel exports in the Democrats’ transportation plan.

“We consider this a gas tax on not just our neighbors but on Washingtonians,” Braun said during the press conference.

Braun said Republicans are holding steady with the same priorities they started the session with — restoring public safety, returning affordability to Washington residents and rebuilding trust in state and local government.

“We have to find opportunities to give back to the people of Washington,” Wilson said.

With higher-than-expected tax revenues continuing to fill state coffers, House Democrats bumped up spending in their plan. The supplemental budget includes $100 million to aid salmon recovery and $172 million to increase the number of school nurses, guidance counselors, psychologists and social workers.

Another $400 million would be allocated to schools for earthquake preparation and retrofitting, and $350 million would go to the state-paid family leave program struggling with financial insolvency.

The affordable housing crisis and homelessness would see one of the biggest allocations, with $700 million coming from a mix of state and federal funding.

“Now the real work starts, because we have different opinions on how you pay for it and what you buy,” state Rep. Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver, said in an interview Wednesday. “None of them are baked until the cake comes out of the oven.”

Wylie said the two sides will have just two weeks to reconcile their differences, but she added that she’s very excited by what the House has accomplished so far.

“We did some things in the transportation budget that we haven’t done before. We didn’t do a big bonding bill of the gas tax, and we didn’t raise the gas tax. We had to do other things in order to try meet the (state’s) needs,” she said.

Because of federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act, in addition to the increase in sales tax revenue, $2 billion from the operating fund will go to transportation to fill in the holes, Wylie said.

“That operating money hasn’t happened before. It’s a unique year to be able to do that,” she said.

While she hasn’t had time to fully examine each line item in the budget proposals, Wylie said projects like the Interstate 5 Bridge and the Winter Hospitality Overflow organization are included. 

“We put a lot of money into housing and homelessness issues,” Wylie said.

One example in the operating budget is Daybreak Youth Services, which provides adolescent addiction and mental health treatment services in Clark County and Spokane.

“When it comes to youth services, we’re kind of a desert compared to some parts of the state,” Wylie said.

In the Senate, a capital budget adopted Wednesday saw an additional $2.6 million allocated to projects in Clark County. 

State Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, said in a press release that the Port of Camas-Washougal would receive $300,000 for work related to its new South 41st Street project, while the remaining $2.3 million would go toward environmental cleanup managed by the state Department of Ecology in the area of the former Pacific Wood Treating Corp. site, along Division Street in Ridgefield.

“What we approved today is intended to be a mid-cycle supplement to the two-year capital budget approved in 2021, meaning these investments would be added to the more than $70 million already sent to our district for a variety of important purposes,” Rivers said in the release.

Rivers said of the three state-government biennial budgets — capital, operating and transportation — the capital budget was the most likely to receive a strong bipartisan vote. The bill passed with unanimous support.