Governor’s budget demands billions more from taxpayers despite record revenue

With an unprecedented amount of money in state government’s reserves and plenty of tax revenue coming in to address mental-health treatment and other bipartisan priorities, Sen. John Braun saw no need for Gov. Jay Inslee to demand even more from Washington taxpayers. Yet after the governor released his 2019-21 operating budget proposal this morning, Braun said he was not surprised to learn that the governor still isn’t satisfied.

Inslee is calling for a multibillion-dollar tax increase on employers and the state’s first-ever tax on personal income to finance a $10 billion spending increase. The governor also wants a 131 percent increase in local education property taxes by reinstituting the same inequitable school-funding policy that led to the just-settled McCleary lawsuit.

“Last year the Legislature approved a bipartisan budget that made historic investments in education and increased funding for mental health, higher education and state worker salaries,” said Braun, R-Centralia, who serves as the ranking Republican on the Senate Ways and Means Committee. “Based on our current projections we’ll have billions more to sustain these investments and still improve special education and mental health. Yet somehow that is not nearly enough money for the governor. At a time when taxpayers are already providing billions more in higher tax revenue, he wants a 67 percent tax-rate increase that would hurt small businesses, an unconstitutional tax on income and a complete wipeout of the bipartisan property-tax reforms due to take effect in 2019.”

The state already projects to take in $50 billion during the 2019-21 budget cycle, a 9.2 percent increase over the existing budget. Inslee’s proposal would increase state taxes by $3.7 billion in the 2019-21 biennium, but that amount rises to $5.4 billion in 2021-23 once his proposed capital-gains income tax would be phased in fully. The end result would be a $10 billion — or 22.4 percent — spending increase over the current budget that also reduces reserves by more than $1 billion. The plan he presented today is not a serious proposal that deals with the realities of crafting and passing a budget.

“If budgets are a statement of priorities, it’s clear the governor will always choose to spend more without considering the effect on taxpayers or the results we achieve.”

Inslee also proposes undoing major bipartisan property-tax reform passed in 2017 that returned the state to its role as primary provider for public schools and capped local-education property-tax levies at $1.50/$1,000 of assessed value or $2,500 per student. Inslee wants to increase the local-education property-tax collections from $1.6 billion to $3.7 billion each year by returning to the inequitable system that allowed districts to raise local funds equal to 28 percent of their state and federal funding.

“Despite the massive and necessary state funding increase for public schools in recent years, there are still areas we need to do better,” said Braun. “But those investments should be made at the state level so we can support all students in all communities. While the governor may pitch this plan as a return to the old levy system, he’s failing to acknowledge how the significant increase in state spending on K-12 education factors into a 28 percent levy cap – meaning it allows a much larger amount of money to be raised locally. This would again make some high-income communities winners and low-income areas losers. This comes after our previous plan rebalanced significant statewide inequities and is set to provide 70 percent of state residents with local education property tax relief.

“Ultimately the governor wants to go on an extreme spending spree and come January it will be up to lawmakers to address our priorities by governing with what we have. At some point, the public is going to run out of patience with annual demands for billions more of their money.”

Lawmakers are scheduled to convene on Jan. 14 for a 105-day session.