Washington State Capitol Legislative Building

The Washington State Capitol — usually abuzz with activity during winter legislative session — will be much more tranquil this year as lawmakers conduct hearings and other work online.

OLYMPIA — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has taken his re-election as a mandate, calling the beginning of his third term “a magic moment of progress.”

Inslee rejects scaling back his legislative agenda because of the pandemic, which will prevent constituents from entering legislative buildings. The Democratic governor has rekindled campaigns to tax carbon and capital gains, and gradually wring some of the carbon out of gasoline and diesel sold in the state.

“We have big things to do, and I think we’re going to get them done. I’m excited about this session. I think the moment is a magic moment of progress on so many different things,” Inslee said.

During the Legislature’s 105-day session, Democrats hold solid majorities in the House and Senate. Committee hearings will be on Zoom, and lawmakers will vote by video.

Internet doubts

Rep. Joel Kretz, a Republican who represents northeast Washington, said getting and staying online will be a problem for him and other rural lawmakers and residents.

“We have bad internet out here, most of Eastern Washington does,” said Kretz, who plans to stay in Olympia during the session. “I have been unable to express my viewpoints fully in a number of meetings.

“The public is, the way I see it, in a really bad position for having their interests represented,” Kretz said.

Inslee said he expects legislators to largely function as they always do. “We have found remote communications has actually worked very, very well,” he said.

“I think they’re going to work out wrinkles in their process. That will take a little bit of time, but I don’t think we should trim our sails much here.”

10.5% spending hike

Inslee has presented lawmakers with a two-year operating budget proposal that would increase state spending by 10.5% to $57.5 billion.

Pandemic-induced business lockdowns have not translated into a budget deficit. Inslee proposes to add to growing state revenue with approximately $1 billion in new taxes and by spending down the rainy day fund by $2 billion.

The Department of Ecology would add 62 full-time positions, including 34.6 jobs to implement a cap-and-trade plan for carbon emissions, 8.3 jobs to administer a low-carbon fuel standard and 6.9 jobs to enforce the Obama administration’s Clean Water Rule.

In outlining his agenda, Inslee said voters were given a choice, and they re-elected him to a third term by 545,177 votes. “That’s a decision that they made,” he said.

Inslee overwhelmingly captured King County, where Seattle is, by 580,352 votes, more than enough to offset the loss of 27 of the 39 counties in the state.

The governor scored his most lopsided victories in King and San Juan counties. The counties rank one and two, respectively, in per capita personal income, according to the Office of Financial Management.

Overall in Pacific County, Inslee pulled 46.47% of votes compared to 53.24% for Culp. However, Inslee prevailed in Peninsula and Chinook precincts with 52.8% of votes.

On the other side of the state, the governor lost to Republican candidate Loren Culp in Ferry, Franklin and Grant counties, the three counties with the lowest per capita incomes.

GOP says Inslee out of touch

Senate Minority Leader John Braun, R-Centralia, said Inslee’s proposals to raise taxes to spend “mostly on more government” were “out of touch.”

“They just don’t seem to understand how hard it is if you’re not getting that bi-weekly government check,” Braun said. “They don’t seem at all interested in connecting with people that are having a hard time getting through this.

“We have essentially a balanced budget in front of us, prior the governor’s proposal, and $2 billion in the rainy day fund,” he said. “We have everything we need to address our challenges without new taxes. It’s as simple as that.”

The state estimates a 9% tax on capital gains over $25,000 for individuals and $50,000 for joint filers would raise $975 million the first year, a figure revised downward since the governor rolled out his budget.

The tax would exempt some capital gains from selling agricultural property, but there is no blanket exemption for farmers or ranchers.

The tax, according to the governor’s office, would not apply to cattle, horses or breeding livestock sales if the property was held for more than 12 months and at least 50% of the taxpayer’s gross income was from farming or ranching.

Gains from selling a farm held for at least 10 years would be exempt, provided the taxpayer had “regular, continuous and substantial involvement” in the farm.

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