Dear Friends and Neighbors,
During my time in the Legislature, our state has faced significant economic ups and downs. One thing has remained constant, however, and that is the seemingly irresistible temptation to raise taxes.
This biennium, there has been a proposal to implement a statewide sugar tax that would be even more punitive than the tax that was recently implemented in Seattle.
An energy tax has also been championed by the governor, even though his own staff admits it would significantly increase the cost of gasoline, energy, and natural gas. It would also drive up the cost of groceries. The good news is it seems the majority party in the Senate doesn't have the votes to pass it this session.
A capital gains income tax has also been proposed by the majority party in the House. Proponents claim it would only affect the rich, which is the same argument that was made by proponents of the I-1098 income tax proposal in 2010. It's an argument that was overwhelmingly rejected by voters because they understood a tax on the rich would not remain a tax on the rich. They knew it would be expanded the second lawmakers felt it wasn't bringing in enough revenue.
The majority party has claimed a capital gains tax is needed in order to provide property tax relief after the one-year spike caused by the McCleary solution we passed last year. However, that's just not the case. The recent revenue forecast from state economists revealed the state will likely bring in $1.3 billion more in additional tax revenue over the next four years than previously expected. That means by June 30, 2021, we'll have about $2.3 billion in reserves. Surely that's enough money to provide property tax relief for all Washingtonians without raising taxes, is it not?
The capital gains tax is part of the majority party's supplemental operating budget proposal, which came to the floor last Friday for the amendment process, and then again on Monday for final passage. House Republicans offered 39 amendments, of which 38 were heard and debated on the floor. Of those, 15 were adopted and 17 were voted down.
One of the amendments that was voted down was introduced by Rep. Dave Hayes, who proposed allocating $30 million to school districts so they could hire more school resource officers.
We've had many debates on gun rights this session, and I've heard over and over from the majority party that we must take steps to protect our schoolchildren. I agree, and that's why I was stunned to see them reject Hayes' amendment. The fact is many schools in Washington state are vulnerable to attacks from those who are mentally ill or simply have evil intent in their hearts. That's why we wanted to provide this funding. If we're truly serious about taking proactive steps to ensure safer schools and protect our schoolchildren, then we should spend the money to do that.
Another amendment that was rejected was one I introduced. It would have allocated $50 million for the removal of tens of thousands of man-made, complete and partial fish barriers across Washington state. I had originally introduced a bill to do this, but the chair of the House Appropriations Committee refused to grant it a hearing before House of Origin cutoff.
You can watch my floor speech on the amendment here. I think it was one of the best speeches I have ever delivered on the House floor, and hope you take a couple of minutes to watch it. I would also encourage you to read the op-ed I wrote in The Seattle Times on this issue last month.
I'm frustrated these two amendments, in particular, weren't adopted. We spend significant resources on many things I would argue are far less important. Spending $80 million to keep our kids safe and to preserve our salmon runs doesn't seem to me to be too big of an ask.
In the end, while we did get some good amendments approved, none of us on the Republican side thought the budget was strong enough to support.
An update on my suicide prevention bill
In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed the suicide rate among workers in farming, fishing and forestry was five times higher than that of the general population of the United States. Newsweek also reported the suicide rate for farmers in some states was higher than the suicide rate for military veterans.
Learning those facts compelled me to introduce House Bill 2671, which would require the State Office of Rural Health to convene a task force on behavioral health and suicide prevention in the agricultural industry. The 16-member task force, comprised of mental health experts, staff from key state agencies, and representatives from a number of commissions, associations and other entities, would be required to issue a report by Dec. 1, 2018 on the following:
- Data related to the mental health status of agricultural workers
- Factors affecting the mental health status and suicide rates of agricultural workers
- Materials and resources to include in a suicide prevention pilot program
- Opportunities to improve the mental health of agricultural workers and reduce the risk of suicide
Based on the recommendations of the task force, the state Department of Health would then be required to establish a pilot program in a county west of the Cascade Crest that is reliant on the agricultural industry. The pilot program would provide free counseling and suicide prevention resources.
The bill has made good progress in the Legislature, and is now sitting in the Senate Rules Committee. I'm hoping it will receive a vote on the Senate floor before tomorrow evening's cutoff deadline.
Last week, the members of The Olympian's editorial board wrote a piece on my bill titled, “Wilcox has good idea to counter farm suicides.” I'm grateful to them for writing it, and for helping me raise even more awareness about this critical issue. You can read their editorial here.
As this 60-day session wraps up, I encourage you to continue contacting me with your questions, comments and concerns. My contact information is below.
It is an honor to serve you.