Rep. Carlyle’s update from Olympia

Representative Reuven Carlyle has emailed us a new blog post covering the flurry of activity in Olympia, especially surrounding the state budget. As is customary now, Carlyle is asking for your feedback on a wide range of issues — and he reads the comments. His post follows below:

In the waning days of the 2009 session in Olympia, legislators are debating, advocating, prodding, pushing and voting on major issues ranging from greenhouse gas emissions to education reform, domestic partnerships and job initiatives in cooperation with the Obama Administration.

Serving as a member of the state House has been a tremendous experience on a personal and professional level. The best part has been making a difference on profoundly important public policy issues that impact real people living real lives. The worse part has obviously been spending so much time away from my wife Wendy and our four children. I’m chomping at the bit to come home!

On the budget front: House and Senate budget negotiators are holed up in conference rooms in the Capitol forging a deal on how to address a $9 billion projected deficit in the $33 billion biennial operating budget. The central theme of the session has been jobs, jobs, jobs.

Budget categories include basic education (K-12), higher education, social services, government reform challenges and much more. There also are two stop-gap tax proposals being discussed to mitigate the worst effects of the unprecedented slashing of $9B from state programs: 1) a temporary 0.3 percent increase in the sales tax and 2) a 1% income tax for those earning more than $250,000 per year. Either would require voter approval, so don’t worry that you wouldn’t have a direct voice! (Let me know in the comment section whether you think I should vote to send a tax measure to the ballot and, if so, which one).

I’m proud that the Legislature passed a strong education reform bill (HB 2261) with the support of thousands of parents, teachers and supporters. Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson and I all voted for the education reform bill. We had hundreds of visitors to Olympia from Ballard, Queen Anne, Magnolia and throughout the 36th District. The reform bill, which unfortunately has not gained the support of the Washington Education Association, offers a new definition of ‘basic education’ for the first time in a generation. I do believe we must increase funding for schools given our rank of 42nd in the nation in funding public education, but it is essential that we thoughtfully improve the quality, performance and accountability of the institutional bureaucracy of education at the same time. Here’s video of the first speech I delivered on the House floor on this legislation earlier in the session.

Legislation to expand domestic partnership rights passed overwhelmingly. It would allow, for example, the same-sex partner of a police officer killed in the line of duty to receive access to the same public-employee benefits that a heterosexual partner would receive. It’s a basic civil right that I am proud to support.

I did vote on principle against the 520 tolling bill despite my strong support for comprehensive regional tolling. There is not yet agreement on the bridge design between the east and west sides of 520, and given what I’ve learned from 8 years of viaduct dialogue, if you don’t have a strategy in place you shouldn’t start spending money. In terms of the tunnel project itself, I am pleased that we secured the $2.4 billion (plus $400M in tolling authority).

We all know the struggling economy led by unemployment and underemployment, taxes, business climate issues, workforce development and more requires new strategies for the 21st Century global economy. We are facing structural challenges in our economy at the local, state and national levels. One of my regrets from the session is that I didn’t spend time earlier preparing legislation to help small businesses (from paperwork reduction to city, county and state tax streamlining), which form the core of our long term economic growth.

I also admit I’ve been frustrated at the lack of progress in tackling genuine structural reforms in government programs during this economic crisis. I don’t mean this from an anti-government perspective but simply that it takes genuine courage to address the sacred cows in any institution, and government is no different. But given the march of rising costs in health care, for example, we have absolutely no choice.

It’s been a real jolt to see up close and personal the operational difference between the public and private sectors.

While much of the major environmental legislation was regretfully watered down this year, we have adopted some compelling clean energy bills that will help leverage the federal government’s new investment in clean technology. I joined with the environmental community and worked extremely hard to protect I-937, the citizen’s initiative on renewable energy that was adopted by voters (more than 70% in our district, by the way).

In the final days, we have major votes on the Viaduct, job and workforce development, budgets, state revenue packages, unemployment insurance, child care workers, local taxing options for Metro and King County, jobs and school construction and much more.

How are we doing?

Your partner in service, Reuven.

Geeky Swedes

The founders of My Ballard

57 thoughts to “Rep. Carlyle’s update from Olympia”

  1. Thank you for the update. As for the budget shortfall, we need to be courageous about finding new revenue sources. We can't balance the budget simply by slashing programs. I support the income tax on high income earners. A sales tax hurts those at the bottom end of the economic scale more so than those at the top. Is it wealth redistribution? Yes, of course it is. That's what a graduated income tax has always been and that's the way it should be.

    As for education, our legislators seem to forget that they are mandated by our state constitution to fund education before all else. How can we say we're meeting that requirement when we are 42nd in the nation in education funding? We have to make cuts in programs to balance the budget but education is not the place to do it. It is the key investment in our future.

    Thank you for your hard work.

  2. Reuven – how in the heck are Seattle property owners going to manage footing the bill on this viaduct overrun issue…

    The aging Alaskan Way Viaduct is a step closer to being replaced with a deep-bore tunnel.

    After years of stalemate, the House, on a 53-43 vote Wednesday, approved a plan to replace the earthquake-damaged elevated highway.

    The bill passed by the House needs to be reconciled with a different version passed by the state Senate. One major difference: The House says Seattle property owners should be on the hook for cost overruns.

  3. Thanks for all your hard work — no doubt a tough session to be a newcomer!

    While I applaud the work you did to hold the line on so many important issues, I'm profoundly disappointed that the legislature didn't have the courage to turn our budget crisis into a reform opportunity by making a serious move to adopt the Gates Commissions bipartisan recommendations for fundamental reform of our state tax system.

    Our current, regressive sales, property and B&O taxes are a sad (and cruel) joke. An income tax on only high earners is a start, but hardly the kind of comprehensive revenue reform that is so desperately needed.

    One of my hopes for you, Rep. Carlyle, is that you'll have the energy, financial acumen and progressive reformer spirit to stand up to the status quo and help move the dialogue on this issue out of the rut it's been stuck in for decades. No small challenge, I know.

  4. We know the income tax on higher earners is only the 'start'. Next thing you know we'll be California with high sales tax, income tax on all AND deficits.

    Good luck getting re elected if you slap an income tax on us.

  5. I strongly support a vote for a tax on income over $250,000 per year. Much of this has been disbursed by corporations which already benefit from huge tax breaks not available to small business and ordinary taxpayers. Thank you for this opportunity to comment.

  6. I support and income tax on ALL! Reuven, we trust you to spend the money wisely and ignore the poster above, people in Ballard are compassionate and will enjoy giving their money to Olympia. Seriously, we just feel guilty spending it ourselves.

  7. Typing is hard.

    >In terms of the tunnel project itself, I am pleased that we secured the $2.4 billion (plus $400M in tolling authority).

    You shouldn't be pleased, you should be ashamed. We're $9 billion in the hole, and spending $2.5 on a tunnel while cutting education? How does that make an ounce of sense? We're never going to climb up from our #42 spot at this rate. I know many of my fellow Ballardites are worried worried worried about the viaduct going away, but I'm more worried about the tunnel arriving. I can't stress enough how much I'd prefer a bit of fiscal leadership here to say, hey guys, we ran out of money for your precious tunnel, so if you want it, pass the funding. How is it we can build a huge road tunnel with NO voter approval for the cost but have to fight tooth and nail to fund (much cheaper per trip!) fixed-rail transit? I mean I'm sure there's a reason, but if our goal is better mobility, it's not a reason that's serving us well.

    >I joined with the environmental community and worked extremely hard to protect I-937

    Thanks for that. The “hydropower is renewable!” nonsense that was going around for that vote was insane. I assume those spewing it did not have their homes put in a lake by dam construction!

    >a 1% income tax for those earning more than $250,000 per year.

    YES. We've got a once-in-a-generation opportunity to put a chink in the no-income-tax armor in this state and any progress we make towards a system we can structure well is good progress. If everyone's so worried about getting re-elected or having the conservatives throw tea parties, the stick-it-to-the-rich model would probably be a good compromise.

  8. You think they'll only 'stick it to the rich'? Just wait and see.

    Anyway, an income tax will never pass in WA. It's political suicide. Gregoire knows this.

  9. A bunch of thoughts here, and I hope that Reuven is reading them so that he will see other viewpoints that exist inside his district:

    1. It is all too easy to put forth an income tax proposal when the large majority of the voters will not be affected by it. Much of the discussion of the problems with the sales tax is that it isn't “fair”. I'm not going to argue progressivity/regressivity here. What I am going to point out is that when you single out a small group of people for a tax, that is not by any definition fair. Either everyone is exposed to the tax (at different rates, of course), or nobody should be.

    2. I was at the legislative forum and wanted to ask this question: in your time in the legislature so far, have you found any departments/administrators who are especially exemplary in the way they run their department from an efficiency standpoint? More to the point, what are you doing to recognize those individuals and either get them promoted or help them spread their ideas/methods to other departments? It makes it a lot easier to pay taxes when you are confident that the money is being administered efficiently.

    In closing, I'd like to thank Reuven for giving us this opportunity and only hope that as he continues in the legislature that he does not get blinded by ideology, but rather makes decisions after considering the entire issue.

  10. Thanks for writing to us!

    My concern is about the budget. I'd like to see Olympia do everything it can to make cuts and get the budget shortfall down as far as it possibly can before resorting to more or new taxes to make up any remaining difference. I don't mean by cutting basic services, but by cutting those projects that are nice, but not necessary to health and safety.

    Thanks for listening!

  11. A note regarding the proposed 1% income tax on high income individuals (SB 6147)…

    A reading of the the state constitution seems pretty clear that any legislation singling out a particular class of people (high-income) for an income tax is highly unlikely to make it past the state supreme court. Washington State's Constitution is very clear that all taxes on property must be uniform (according to Article VII, Section 1) – and the courts seem to have been consistent over the years in regarding income as property. An income tax targeted at only a small percentage of earners is certainly not uniform. I imagine those in the legislature who are advocating this are no doubt aware that this legislation would most likely be tossed out by the courts.

    So why push it – other than populist, class politics? Section 1101 of the bill suggests a reason:

    NEW SECTION. Sec. 1101. SEVERABILITY. If any provision of this
    act or its application to any person or circumstance is held invalid,
    the remainder of the act or the application of the provision to other
    persons or circumstances is not affected.

    So if this bill were passed, and the Court subsequently ruled it unconstitutional, the language in Section 1101 seems to indicate that the law could simply default to a tax on *every* federal income tax payer – not just the high-income folks originally targeted.

    The cynic in me suggests that pushing this through and getting it shot down in the courts is EXACTLY what Sens. Kohl-Welles, Murray, Kline, etc. have in mind.

    I'd be curious to hear Rep. Carlyle's take.

  12. We need an income tax on all to replace a substantial part of our other taxes, but it should be an income tax on all but the very poor. 1% from all would be fair and the wealthier folks would still be paying quite a bit more than others.

  13. Any move towards a (progressive) income tax and away from a (regressive) sales tax would be a move towards fairness in taxation. Why should the poor and middle class continue to pay many times higher percentage of their income in taxes than those better off? It's time for those fortuante enough to be making higher incomes to pay their fair share of taxes in Washington.

  14. California's net domestic immigration rate has been negative for years now — in fact, people are leaving in droves for other Western states. Its population continues to grow due to births and foreign immigration.

  15. A small income tax on earnings over $250,000 would be a step toward fixing Washington's regressive tax structure. This would include all income, not just wages?

  16. Nobody's going to move for a modest change in income tax. People move for jobs and quality of life, and without the taxes to fund basic services the quality of life will suffer here and then people will start moving.

  17. If you leave out the regressivity issue than of course a tax targeting one group would be unfair. The reality is that having only a sales tax is very regressive, so instituting an income tax on incomes of over $250,000 is the very beginning of balance.
    Without the income tax where would we get the revenue? Sales tax. And there we go making our tax structure even more regressive.

  18. Thanks so much for your report and for your willingness to listen to us.

    YES on the income tax. Now is the time.

    NO on the sales tax increase for all the reasons previously stated.

    Question: Will we be able to deduct the income tax from our Federal taxes as they can in some other states?

    I'm anxious to hear your response.

  19. First, a quick technical note: the link to the video is broken, and even removing the quote from the end just leads back here. What's the correct link to the video?

    Reuven, while I think you're doing a pretty good job in Olympia, I sure don't trust most of the other legislators (even from this district) to keep spending in check (see past performance over the last 8 years). Thus, I believe any income tax would quickly become a broad-based tax on everyone, and would not lead to any sales tax reduction.

    Please don't support an income tax in any way! I'd also advise against passing a sales tax increase for the ballot.

  20. Any thoughts on what you think should be cut? Education, while insufficient, accounts for 40% already. I know you're not claiming to be an expert, but I can't find anyone who has a “good” thing to cut. Children's health? DSHS? State Patrol? Parks?

  21. I absolutely support an income tax, for the wealthy now and eventually for everyone with a VERY progressive scale. Oh I can hear the screaming now of this being class warfare. : ) The well off had no problem with that as long as they were winning.

  22. I'm sick of the argument that an income tax can't pass because of the sales tax. The creation of the income tax should be effected in an omnibus bill that decreases the state's portion of the sales tax ALONG with revision of the property tax rules. Here's my suggestion for that: fix property taxes when someone buys a house and only re-assess if the house changes owners through sale or inheritance (sorry kids).

    My big fear is that any tax INITIATIVE on the November ballot will bring out the right-wing nuts in great numbers and many of them will also support repeal of the Domestic Partnership expansion (a likely initiative).

    My family is looking forward to the enactment of the “everything but marriage” bill while we wait for full fairness and the recognition of our Canadian marriage.

  23. Yes, I fought tooth and nail against this amendment. It doesn't even define “Seattle area” or “property owners”. The immediate goal was to ensure it was property owners in the immediate area of the tunnel (developers, condo owners, etc.) and not regular property taxpayers, but it's all up in the air. I doubt it's even legal actually. Hopefully we won't find out. Reuven.

  24. I've been impressed with Cindi Holmstrom, director of the department of revenue, who has modernized her computer systems and reduced costs dramatically. Steve Hill of Health Care Authority is very, very sharp as well. I've been really disappointed in DSHS…they are a tough crowd in terms of willingness to modernize. The Department of Information Services (runs technology for the state) is a total and omplete mess. There are a lot of really good mid level folks who I've see as leaders and who embrace systems change. Like all organizations, there are the good/bad and ugly.

  25. It's less about any one program area and more about structures. The state has 110,000 employees and any organization that large has room to improve how the operation is run. in state gov't, my concern is that there is so little incentive to reform or reorganize along more thoughtful delivery models and structures. We can do much, much better. That doesn't mean there is $9B that can be trimmed without hurting people, it just means that we need to embrace some structural improvements. in technology areas alone, I know we could save about $300 million if I had that proverbial magic wand.

  26. Your comments and observations are right on target. I think your legal analysis is accurate. We could do a flat rate tax across the board but progressive elements would need to be done on the 'back end' such as deductions, rebates, etc. by income. Constitutionally we can't treat people differently as you note.

  27. I do support a more progressive tax structure for our state, and one that is much more small business friendly (ie change the B&O tax from gross receipts to some sort of net). I do feel, however, that we should have low sales, low property, low personal income, low corporate earnings. I think we lose our way when we are dependent upon one or two major, regressive sources of taxes and don't have a broader structure that doesn't penalize any one group.

    I think our sales tax has hit the 'tipping point' and I do not support raising it beyond the current level.

  28. Reuven, you wrote:

    “There also are two stop-gap tax proposals being discussed to mitigate the worst effects of the unprecedented slashing of $9B from state programs: 1) a temporary 0.3 percent increase in the sales tax and 2) a 1% income tax for those earning more than $250,000 per year. Either would require voter approval, so don’t worry that you wouldn’t have a direct voice! “

    I ask, why do we need a direct voice when we've elected you as our representative? I voted for you because you supported reducing reliance on sales taxes and making our tax system less regressive. Why spend so much money on yet another 1 issue election so those of us who have ALREADY VOTED FOR A REPRESENTATIVE can circumvent that to have a “direct voice”? Are you saying that the legislature, which should be debating these issues and doing the homework and then taking a position, is superfluous?

  29. A direct voice? Cuz ol' Reuven knows actually voting in an income tax will be political suicide. So giving it to us to vote it down – and it will be voted down, most voters aren't as dumb as Seattlistas – is a fine dodge on his part. He can pretend he's for it, knowing it won't happen. That way the wacky left will be appease ( useful idiots that they are) and us moderates won't crucify him.

    Thanks Reuven!

  30. Why is it democrats want to spend everybody elses money, then call that “compassion”? Fact is the “rich' ARE paying enough. And when government is done fleecing them where do some feel more money will come from? Wouldn't be the middle class would it? Can we actually bring down the wage payer by bringing up the wage earner? Can we tax ourselves into prosperity? Has any society? Will that pipeline open up in the guilt ridden liberals front room when the “rich” get gouged? Does a business really pay taxes, or is it their customers? Born/raised here it makes me ill to see some of these posts here with all the guilt. Why not simply just send in your own check tomorrow and leave me alone? Time for government going without that Big-Mac. Since when is communism “progressive”? Rueven, I am not alone, but pretty near. Nice inclusive neighborhood, Ballard. Zero Republicans on any local ballot ever, but soooo tolerant/diverse.

  31. I'd be on board, if only they could be trusted to let it go away, but they don't do that.
    They also would quickly look to lower the threshold, say, to just under 40k…
    There's no intention to cut or remove any current tax either…or 'folks will die'.
    We spend a lot on junk, and we save nothing, no one can function that way.

  32. Fuzzbeans,

    any income tax would have to go in front of the people as an amendment to the constitution to be legal.

    I would only support an income tax that removed the sales tax and was progressive across all income levels. I am not rich but taxing any group just because their numbers are too small and their position in society is envied by others is fundamentally wrong.

  33. Let's all give Reuven a break tonight. He's gone above and beyond the call of duty here. He's smart enough to be making three times the income he gets paid for being a legislator. Here's the 2009 salary for a WA state Legislator, $42,106.

  34. “Let's all give Reuven a break tonight”

    Never, ever give a politician a break. No way, no how.

    Besides, I'm just complimenting him on being a GOOD politician. Really good.

  35. I don't agree with Reuven on some policies, but I *strongly* applaud his efforts to communicate with us, here on this blog (in the middle of the rushed last days of the session, even!) and otherwise. From his many responses here, it's obvious he's actually read and considered our comments. That's much, much more effort than our other 2 state legislators (or Reuven's predecessor) have made. Bravo!

  36. Please don't implement *any* sort of income tax, on high or low earners. “Those earning more than $250,000 a year” already pay higher taxes via property tax on their expensive homes and sales tax on their expensive cars and goods. Washington should encourage wealthy people to stay in this state because wealthy people create jobs (one of the reasons Bezos founded Amazon in WA is because WA doesn't have income tax). Driving entrepreneurs to Texas, Nevada, or other income tax-less states would be a foolish mistake.

    So: instead of punishing high-earners, try reducing expenses. Cut wasteful bureaucracy. Streamline government workforces (lay off or fire the worst government employees). Trim unnecessary services.

    If you're looking for more revenue, increase taxes for use of government-provided services. Tolls are terrific; those who use the roads the most will pay the most. Same goes for schools: those who use the public school system the most should pay the most. Follow the model of the “sin taxes”: taxes on booze and cigarettes, to help pay for the public's health care bill from booze and cigarette use.

  37. Reuven, thank you for taking the time to post. I've been impressed with your willingness to interact with voters (and even comment on comments). I appreciate it. As for the budget, I understand the tough decisions you have to make. However, I am strongly against an income tax on just high income earners. I view this as very unfair, and I am not saying this because I would have to pay. I don't make close that the proposed limit but I just don't agree with the idea of only some having to pay for government services. I think a more even approach can be found to raise the necessary money. Although I agree the sales tax has its problems and I do think we're reaching a “tipping point” as you say with the rate, there has got to be a better way than taxing only some people. Thank you for what you do, and for your consideration.

  38. The 1% income tax that was proposed is more acurately described as a proportional tax or flat tax.

    Proportional tax = Income tax that takes the same percentage of all incomes, whether large or small.

    The majority (51%) of our state's tax system is dependent on the regressive sales tax.

    The lowest 20 percent of Washington's income earners pay 17 percent of their income. The second 20 percent, those earning $30,000 to $45,000, pay about 13 percent.

    By contrast, the top 15 percent (those over $90,000) pay just 7 percent, and the top one percent of income earners, pay just 3 percent.

    Regressive tax = A tax that takes a larger percentage of the income of low-income people than of high-income people.

  39. Dude, give it up. Pot will be legalized before Gregoire signs onto an income tax.

    ” a larger percentage of the income of low-income people”

    Well, call it a 'user fee'. The wealthy don't drain as many services.

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