Washington state Governor Jay Inslee’s proposal for the upcoming 2017-2019 state budget would help move our state forward by improving health care services, funding great schools, investing in early learning, and taking big steps to make sure Washingtonians have clean air and water. His budget invests in progress for our state and its people, and that should be the aim of legislators when they gather in January 2017 to begin their work on crafting the state budget.
As we wrote previously, Inslee proposes to pay for much-needed investments in schools and in communities across Washington state with forward-thinking, equitable changes to the state’s tax code like a state capital gains tax. Ultimately, the revenue plan would generate $4.4 billion in new revenue in the coming two-year budget cycle.
The chart below shows the new investments included in Inslee’s budget by the value areas included in our Progress Index framework. Major changes in each area are described below.
Click on image to enlarge.
Education represents the largest area of new investment in the governor’s proposed budget. His proposal would increase funding in education by 15.3 percent ($3.7 billion). The bulk of new funding in this area would go to public K-12 schools and would increase base teacher salaries, reduce class sizes, and expand learning assistance and mentoring programs, among other things. Major changes to K-12 funding are detailed in our previous analysis. Other new investments in education include:
- Making higher education more affordable: The proposal would keep tuition at universities, community colleges, and technical colleges at current levels – rather than allowing them to grow by up to 2.2 percent in the coming budget. It would also expand financial aid to an additional 14,000 aspiring students from families with low incomes.
- Expanding opportunities for young kids to access high-quality early learning: The governor’s budget ensures that more than 2,700 more children have access to the Early Childhood Education Assistance Program (ECEAP). It would also provide state-funded early learning facilities with more of the resources they need to provide preschool education, and health and nutrition services.
Healthy People and Environment
Inslee’s budget would increase investments that provide access to important health programs, protect public health, and keep our air clean and our water safe by 7.5 percent ($784 million). Major new investments in this area include:
- Improving mental health services: In response to a federal lawsuit that found that conditions at Washington’s underfunded psychiatric hospitals are inadequate, the budget would add funding for additional staff and for other important changes to improve these hospitals and bring them into compliance. The budget would also make new investments in community mental health services.
- Providing treatment to thousands of people living with hepatitis C: Nearly 6,000 people receiving health coverage through Medicaid would receive groundbreaking treatment to cure them of hepatitis C. Not only would increased access to treatment help stem the spread of hepatitis C, but it would also allow these individuals to lead healthier, more fulfilling lives.
- Improving public health: The governor’s plan would provide a boost to local public health agencies to fight the spread of infectious diseases and to help communities remain healthy.
- Fighting air pollution: Inslee’s carbon tax is designed to reduce carbon pollution – the major cause of global warming – in communities across the state. A large share of the revenues from the tax would be invested in clean energy infrastructure and technology needed to help Washington transition to a low-carbon economy. Inslee’s proposal would provide funding necessary to implement the Washington State Department of Ecology’s Clean Air Rule, which requires reductions in carbon emissions and other hazardous air pollutants.
Investments that promote an economy in which all Washingtonians can meet their basic needs and have opportunities to remain stable during a personal financial crisis or economic downturn would be increased by 6.7 percent ($66 million). Major new investments in this area include:
- Removing barriers for people who need assistance to keep and find a job: Families that participate in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, which provides child care, job training, and cash assistance to help parents with lower incomes find a job, would get a 7.5 percent boost in cash assistance, increasing the average amount to $659 per month. Cash assistance for people with lower incomes who are seniors, vision-impaired, or who have a disability would also be increased to $400 per month from $197 per month. Arbitrary limits that currently prevent thousands of Washingtonians from accessing these services would be eliminated.
- Improving access to child care for working parents: The budget would take important steps toward improving access for child care through Working Connections Child Care by making increased investments in child care services and in higher pay for providers to help retain great child care workers.
- Expanding access to supports for those who can’t afford higher energy bills: The carbon tax proposed by the governor, which would help fund schools, transportation, and low-carbon energy infrastructure projects, would increase the price of gasoline, electricity, and natural gas for many Washingtonians. To offset costs for those who can’t afford a significant increase in their utility bills, the governor’s proposal would make the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) available to 29,500 households that don’t currently qualify to participate in the program. LIHEAP reduces utility bills for lower-income households.
- Reducing homelessness: Temporary rent assistance for homeless families with children would be expanded under the proposal. Other services and housing programs for families and individuals would also be increased.
Community Development & Trust
Investments that increase Washingtonians’ safety, enhance public spaces that we all enjoy, and foster trust in state government would be increased by 5 percent ($318 million). Notable new investments in this area include:
- Improving the democratic process through free and fair elections: The governor’s budget invests in upgraded technology to improve the accuracy of the state’s voter database and guarantee reliable and accessible voter registration.
- Increasing access to the legal process for Washingtonians without the means to pay for it: The governor’s budget includes investments to increase capacity in the Washington State Office of Civil Legal Aid, which oversees the provision of legal representation for residents with low incomes in matters such as child custody, housing, consumer fraud, and elder abuse. The budget also boosts funding for the Office of Public Defense, which manages the provision of legal representation to residents with low incomes in criminal matters.
- Improving public and community spaces and promoting outdoor recreation: The proposal invests in maintaining and streamlining public access to clean and beautiful state parks, increasing prevention measures to protect Washington’s historic structures and campgrounds, and promoting outdoor play and environmental education among Washington’s youth.
To be clear, there are aspects of the governor’s budget proposal that require further analysis. For example, how would his plan addresses systemic racism as well as chronic underfunding of services and infrastructure in communities of color across Washington state? We will be working with partner organizations to assess these and other issues in our analyses of the governor’s proposed budget and the legislature’s proposed budgets in the weeks and months ahead.
But the vision for Washington that the governor’s budget proposal represents is a powerful framework for building the kind of thriving communities we all want to see in our state. As lawmakers include their own priorities when they gather in the upcoming legislative session to build the 2017-2019 state budget, they should embrace the boldness of Gov. Inslee’s proposal.
And for the Budget & Policy Center’s suggestions on how lawmakers can go even further when it comes to cleaning up our tax code, read the “What Else Needs to Be Done” section in our analysis on the governor’s revenue proposal.
Inslee’s bold proposal would boost investments in schools by $3.9 billion in the coming 2017-2019 state budget. This proposal makes the right choice: to prioritize investing in Washington’s children now in order to strengthen our state’s communities and economy in the future.
Investing in Great Schools
With regard to K-12 public schools, the proposal would not only finish the job on McCleary, but it would also make additional investments in creating world-class schools. For example, his plan aims to:
- Invest in educators ($2.7 billion): The governor’s budget includes funding to provide competitive wages to recruit and retain teachers, administrators, and classified staff – which is the most significant item that remains to be funded under McCleary. The plan will bring beginning teacher and staff pay up over the next two school years. It creates a new salary allocation model that will compensate teachers and staff not just for years of experience and degrees earned, but also for meeting professional development goals. The budget also seeks to provide teachers with opportunities for training, mentoring, and career advancement as well as with improved health benefits. Further, it will invest in training opportunities to recruit more teachers who represent communities that are often underrepresented, in particular bilingual teachers.
- Close the opportunity gap ($867 million): The governor’s proposal would take steps to ensure all kids have equal opportunities to thrive, including nearly half a billion dollars to staff new, smaller kindergarten through third-grade classrooms. Plus it includes targeted investments in social and emotional health supports for students, a learning assistance program that helps struggling students from families with low incomes, and individualized support for foster care youth.
Making Progress Toward Cleaning Up the Tax Code
To generate the additional resources needed to build a brighter future for all Washingtonians, Inslee proposes important steps toward cleaning up and rebalancing the state’s upside-down tax code – a tax code in which the people with the lowest incomes pay seven times more in taxes as a share of personal income than the richest 1 percent. These steps include:
- Enacting a tax on high-end capital gains ($821 million): Capital gains, which are profits from the sale of corporate stocks and bonds and other financial assets, would be subject to a 7.9 percent tax. The first $25,000 ($50,000 for a married couple) in capital gains would be exempt from taxation. As we’ve written about extensively, capital gains are more heavily concentrated among the very richest households – which means the tax would almost exclusively affect only the richest 2 percent of Washingtonians.
- Eliminating six wasteful tax breaks ($320 million): The proposal would eliminate a sales tax exemption for cars valued at more than $10,000 when traded in to a dealership. (Only the portion valued at more than $10,000 would be subject to the tax.) A Real Estate Excise Tax exemption claimed by banks on properties sold at foreclosure would be eliminated. The sales tax would be extended to purchases of bottled water. (Bottled water sold to people who do not have access to potable water would remain exempt.) A sales tax exemption claimed by Oregonians and residents of other states or countries with low (or no) sales tax would be converted to a refund program in which individuals would have to apply for the exemption. A sales tax exemption claimed by oil refineries on fuel used to power their operations would be repealed. The business and occupation (B&O) tax would be applied to certain out-of-state retailers that avoid collecting sales taxes by exploiting a loophole in federal law.
- Resetting business tax rates on personal and professional services ($2.3 billion): In the mid-1990s, personal and professional services – such as cosmetic services, financial advice, music instruction, attorney services, and business consulting – were subject to a B&O tax rate of 2.5 percent. Policymakers have since reduced the rate to 1.5 percent, although it was briefly boosted to 1.8 percent during the Recession. Inslee would restore the rate to 2.5 percent, but would expand a tax credit for small businesses and raise the minimum amount of business income required to file B&O taxes to $100,000 per year.
- Enacting a new tax on carbon pollution ($1.1 billion): Carbon emissions – the major cause of global warming – from fossil fuel distributors and refineries, power companies, and energy intensive manufacturers would be subject to a new $25 per ton tax. About half of the revenue would be dedicated to schools; the other half would go to investments in clean energy, water infrastructure, transportation, and efforts to reduce costs to businesses and households with lower incomes.
- Reducing property taxes for three-fourths of households and businesses statewide: About $250 million of the additional state tax resources from other parts of the governor’s proposal would be used to reduce local school district property taxes. Under the plan, residents living in 119 school districts (those with significant local property tax levies) would see their property taxes reduced. Even with these reductions, all school districts would receive significant overall increases in education funding.
What Else Needs to Be Done
While Inslee’s revenue reforms would make a dramatic step toward a better future for all Washingtonians, the governor and policymakers should also consider the following reforms to make even greater progress toward a more fair and sustainable state tax code:
- Create a more equitable and adequate property tax system: A law that arbitrarily restricts property tax revenue growth to 1 percent per year must be eliminated. In the current year, the result of this law is that more than $1.6 billion in resources that would otherwise be used to fund schools is being left on the table. The governor and policymakers should also consider a long overdue increase in the state property tax levy paired with new rebates to offset costs for middle- and lower-income homeowners and renters.
- Fund the Working Families Tax Rebate (WFTR): Fully funding the WFTR, a Washington state version of the federal Earned Income Tax Credit, would reduce taxes for more than 400,000 hardworking families in Washington state. Doing so would also help alleviate the higher fuel and energy bills these households would experience under the proposed carbon tax.
- Apply a higher rate to the capital gains tax: Given the many investments needed to create a just and prosperous state, policymakers should consider generating more resources from the capital gains tax. Applying a rate of 9.9 percent – the highest rate applied to capital gains in Oregon – or higher would generate hundreds of millions of dollars in additional resources for schools and other priorities.
We applaud the governor’s investments toward creating excellent schools that benefit our kids and thereby strengthen the future of our state for all of us. This proposal makes the kind of investments necessary to ensure that our kids are taught by qualified and engaged educators and that kids who need the most help have access to supports in and out of the classroom. The plan also prioritizes thriving communities by cleaning up the tax code and getting rid of wasteful tax breaks. When we invest in the foundations that benefit us all, we can help to create a better Washington.
Stay tuned for additional analysis about how the governor’s budget proposal as a whole would impact our communities.
The Future We Want: The Washington State Budget & Policy Center Announces Our 2017-2019 Legislative Agenda
Great schools, strong communities, healthy families: these are the things Washingtonians care about. Everyone wants this to be a state where kids can meet their full potential, where everyone can breathe clean air and drink clean water, and where everyone can succeed.
In the face of big changes on the national landscape, now more than ever it is important that state policymakers work to ensure the future of Washington as a place where all people can lead safe, happy, and healthy lives. The decisions they make now will influence the well-being of people in Washington for years to come.
How do we create a better future for our state? The Washington State Budget & Policy Center’s 2017-2019 Legislative Agenda offers a framework for how policymakers can ensure that every child, every family, every individual, and every community in our state can thrive.
Starting in January, state policymakers must take action to deliver a world-class basic education to every child. This will require cleaning up the tax code and avoiding distractions that take attention away from efforts to make sure every kid in Washington state has access to great schools. It is imperative that policymakers accomplish this task while also dedicating resources to priorities that make Washington a great place to live, from early learning to long-term care, from school breakfast for kids to night classes for their parents.
We know that basic education will dominate the conversation this legislative session. We also know that kids can’t succeed if their parents are struggling to meet their basic needs, if their neighborhoods aren’t safe, and if their communities aren’t healthy. That is why our Legislative Agenda is focused on building a better Washington through the six key areas laid out in our Progress Index: world-class education; economic security, healthy people and environment; community development and trust; good jobs; and revenue. The recommendations within our agenda also aim to promote policies that advance racial equity. The Budget & Policy Center Legislative Agenda offers specific recommendations for how lawmakers can:
- Build economic security by addressing intergenerational poverty, strengthening support for families, and making sure everyone can afford a roof over their head and food on the table.
- Create a world-class education system that provides kids with high-quality teachers, gives them a great start through early learning, and offers equitable access to higher education.
- Ensure everyone has access to affordable health care, as well as mental health and public health services; make sure that everyone lives in an environment with clean air, water, and land.
- Develop strong communities and racial equity while addressing barriers to re-entry and ensuring access to civil legal assistance; ensure that there’s greater transparency about our state’s tax breaks.
- Promote great jobs that stimulate economic growth and development, and advance opportunities for all workers to have paid time off to be with their families.
- Clean up the state’s tax code so that our state has the resources it needs to support a high quality of life for everyone.
Throughout the legislative session, which begins January 9, and beyond, the Budget & Policy Center will work with partner organizations, community leaders, and grassroots advocates to advance the priorities laid out in this agenda. Our research and analysis will continue to show policymakers why it is critical to invest in the progress of our state and its people – especially in the face of proposed federal policies that threaten to move us backward rather than forward.
Hundreds of Thousands of Washingtonians Would Lose Health Coverage with Federal Affordable Care Act Repeal
Congressional leaders in Washington, D.C. plan to move quickly in January 2017 to repeal much of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) without enacting a replacement. Such a move would be devastating to the health and well-being of thousands of Washingtonians. It would set our state and its people on a path backward rather than forward.
In fact, new analysis from the Urban Institute reveals the disastrous impact of a federal ACA repeal on Washington’s families, health care providers, and economy. Here are some key findings:
- 775,000 Washingtonians stand to lose their health insurance coverage if the ACA is repealed. Most of the coverage loss would occur among families with at least one worker and among people without college degrees.
- The number of uninsured Washingtonians would more than double, from 508,000 today to 1,283,000 after a repeal.
- The number of uninsured would be even larger than the number uninsured prior to enactment of the ACA due to the likely collapse of the individual health insurance market with the repeal of the individual mandate and premium assistance programs.
- Washington would lose $3.5 billion in federal funding for health care in 2019, and $42.8 billion between 2019 and 2028.
Washington state has been a leader in implementing the ACA, including establishing a new state health insurance marketplace, the Washington Health Plan Finder, and covering hundreds of thousands of people through Medicaid expansion. These efforts have helped so many Washingtonians have the opportunity to see a doctor or get medicine when they’re sick. Now, this federal proposal threatens to leave individuals in our state extremely vulnerable in terms of both health outcomes and financial security.
The Washington State Budget & Policy Center is tracking potential federal policy changes and their impact on Washingtonians and on our efforts to build a stronger, more prosperous, and equitable state. Stay tuned for more analysis from us and our national partners on proposed federal changes.
- Urban Institute: "Implications of Partial Repeal of the ACA through Reconciliation"
- Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: Washington State Fact Sheet on the Impact of Affordable Care Act Repeal (and fact sheets for all 50 states can be found here)
- Georgetown University Health Policy Institute: "New Study Finds the Number of Uninsured Children Will More Than Double if the Affordable Care Act is Repealed"
- Kaiser Family Foundation: "What Coverage and Financing is at Risk Under Repeal of the ACA Medicaid Expansion?"
Voters Raise Wages for 730,000 Washingtonians; Federal Changes Could Threaten Washington’s Children and Families
In the November 8 election, voters in Washington state overwhelmingly approved a ballot initiative to help working families in our state and strengthen our state economy. The passage of Initiative 1433 means more than 730,000 Washingtonians will get a raise in the next four years. Minimum wage workers 18 and older will earn $11 an hour starting in 2017, $11.50 in 2018, $12 in 2019, and $13.50 in 2020. They will also receive paid sick leave beginning 2018.
Washington was part of a larger movement nationwide to raise the minimum wage. We joined three other states – Colorado, Maine, and Arizona – in approving statewide minimum wage increases. (This, of course, is the result of a movement kicked off in our own state when citywide minimum wage increases were approved in SeaTac and Seattle in 2013 and 2014, respectively.) The voter initiatives in Arizona and Washington also included paid sick and safe days. In addition, voters in South Dakota rejected a referendum that would have lowered the statewide minimum wage by a dollar. And voters in Flagstaff, Arizona approved a phased-in $15 per hour minimum wage.
Budget & Policy Center research on the projected impact of I-1433 was referenced in multiple op-eds, editorials, and endorsements and played a key role in shaping the statewide conversation about the economic benefits of raising the minimum wage. Our analysis estimates the initiative will infuse $2.5 billion more into local economies. It will also directly benefit more than 360,000 Washington kids who live in families where one or more parent makes less than $13.50 per hour.
After Tuesday's national election, our work together becomes much harder, and also even more important and urgent. Proposed federal policy changes to the Affordable Care Act, health care and safety net programs, tax policy, environmental policy, and other areas could significantly impact the state budget and threaten the well-being of Washington children and families.
At the Budget & Policy Center, we stand together against racism, sexism, Islamophobia, and anti-immigrant bias. We remain committed to advancing policies to expand opportunity for our state residents – to ensure we have great schools and to invest in programs that promote economic security, good jobs, and thriving communities.
Our state legislative agenda, which we are developing with our many community partners, will be released prior to the 2017 session. We will also work with partners across the country and at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities to analyze proposed federal policy changes on Washingtonians and fight back against policy changes that would harm our economy, our communities, and our families.
In the meantime, the conversations at our Budget Matters conference next Wednesday, November 16, will focus on strengthening the movement to promote policies that advance racial equity, opportunity for all, and social and economic justice. It will be an opportunity for people who care about the future of Washington state to prepare for the next legislative session and strategize on how we can continue to build progressive wins in a new federal landscape. The registration deadline is tomorrow, Friday, November 11. We hope to see you there.
This version of the blog post has been modified slightly from the original version to better emphasize the Budget & Policy's role in responding to the national election.
Washington’s children have a chance at a better future thanks to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). New research from a Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) report shows that continued investments into this federally funded program set kids up to see better health and education outcomes throughout their lives. It also wards against the effects of hunger and poverty on children and families.
Indeed, SNAP helps prevent the negative effects that families can sometimes face when they’re struggling to make ends meet – such as abuse or neglect, mental health issues with parents, and related events that can take a toll on children’s well-being into adulthood.
The CBPP report, SNAP Works for America’s Children, finds that SNAP helps form a strong foundation of health and well-being for children with low incomes by lifting millions of families out of poverty and helping families have food on the table. It also, among other things, helps kids perform better academically and have fewer missed days of school.
With an investment of only $1.35 per person, per meal, SNAP helps lift children out of deep poverty better than any other government program for people who are trying to make ends meet. (Deep poverty is defined as below 50 percent of the federal poverty line, or an income of $10,080 for a family of three.)
In Washington state, there has been a modest improvement in the hunger rate over the past year. SNAP is helping to give over 423,000 Washington children the foundation they need to succeed.
Nevertheless, the data also show that the need for effective food assistance programs remains significant. Despite the effectiveness of SNAP and statewide networks of community-based food support services, hunger and food insecurity (skipping meals because of a lack of resources to buy food) are still higher than they were before the recession. A recent report by Washington’s Anti-Hunger & Nutrition Coalition highlights U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data showing that while the food insecurity rate decreased to 13.4 percent from 15.4 percent over the past year in Washington, this is still higher than the 11.1 percent pre-recession rate.
There are also limitations to the information collected by the USDA, which may mean that hunger and food insecurity may be even higher than what the data show. USDA survey data does not include families who are homeless. Given that there has been a dramatic rise in homelessness in Washington state over the last year, many people who are hungry or food insecure are likely not being counted.
Further, as a result of continued inequities in federal and state policies, children of color are more likely to experience hunger. The national food insecurity rate for Black households (21.5 percent) and Hispanic households (19.1 percent) is nearly twice that for White/non-Hispanic households. (Unfortunately, no data is reported for Native American or Asian Pacific Islander households, pointing to the need for better data collection methods at both the state and federal levels.)
In order to ensure SNAP is actually serving the kids who need it most, any efforts policymakers make to reform SNAP should build on the program’s effectiveness. In Washington, policymakers recently restored SNAP benefits for legally residing immigrants and protected nearly 200,000 households from cuts in benefits that were proposed at the national level. These are excellent examples of how to strengthen an essential program that helps kids in our state.
Such protections and enhancements to SNAP are a smart policy decision. They will help more Washington children have a better foundation for success throughout their lives.
Voters in Washington state can impact the state’s future in a range of measures on the November 2016 ballot. Based on our extensive research and analysis into the economic costs and benefits of raising the minimum wage, the Washington State Budget & Policy Center endorses Initiative 1433 to raise the minimum wage and provide sick and safe leave.
Here, we provide analysis on Initiative 1433 as well as on specific components of other ballot measures. We do not have an organizational position on the other ballot measures. Our analysis is focused only on specific policy proposals within the measures that pertain to our research expertise.
Initiative 1433: Raising the minimum wage and providing sick and safe leave
I-1433 would raise the statewide minimum wage over the course of four years to $13.50 per hour and provide up to seven days of paid safe and sick leave per year for Washington workers. According to Budget & Policy Center analysis, this initiative would raise the wage for more than 730,000 Washingtonians and directly benefit more than 360,000 Washington kids who live in families where one or more parents makes less than $13.50 per hour.
Ultimately, this initiative would help Washingtonians better make ends meet. And because low-wage workers are likely to spend their increased wages on food, clothes, and other necessities, this initiative would infuse additional money into the economy.
It would also help alleviate gender and racial pay disparities, given that nearly 30 percent of women workers and more than 40 percent of Black and Latino workers currently make less than $13.50 per hour.
While the scope of our analysis focuses solely on the minimum wage component of Initiative 1433, we recognize that the sick and safe leave component of I-1433 also offers significant benefits to kids and families. For more information on how a sick and safe leave policy would strengthen the well-being of Washington’s families and communities, please see this analysis by Children’s Alliance and this analysis by the Economic Opportunity Institute.
By approving Initiative 1433, we can take an important step toward advancing the well-being of Washington’s parents, kids, workers, and communities.
Initiative 1464: Reforming statewide campaign finance rules and closing the nonresident sales tax exemption
While the Budget & Policy Center does not have a position on this initiative, our research (which is referenced in the Voter’s Guide) supports one aspect of the initiative: the closure of the nonresident retail sales tax exemption. This tax break allows visitors who come from Oregon or other states without a sales tax to avoid paying Washington sales tax on goods when they shop in our state. It costs the state approximately $30 million per year, and there is no evidence that the tax exemption creates jobs or stimulates business activity in Washington state.
This initiative would redirect that $30 million in annual revenue toward helping pay for the changes it proposes in Washington state’s campaign finance law.
Initiative 732: Taxing carbon emissions
The Budget & Policy Center has long supported policies aimed at equitably and effectively reducing carbon emissions and transitioning Washington state to a prosperous, low-carbon economy. Our expertise is primarily in fiscal policy and we have no organizational position on I-732. As such, our analysis focuses only on the revenue and budget implications of Initiative 732.
I-732 includes funding for the Working Families Tax Rebate (WFTR) to help directly offset the costs of transitioning to a low-carbon economy for people with lower incomes – a disproportionate share of whom are people of color or from rural communities. The WFTR was originally championed in this state by the Budget & Policy Center, and we think it’s a smart addition to any policy proposal aimed at reducing carbon emissions. (Of note, the tax rebate was enacted by the legislature in 2008, but the funding needed to get the program up and running has never been allocated.)
This initiative would reduce the state sales tax and business and occupation (B&O) tax to offset the new carbon tax. As such, it has been billed as revenue-neutral. However, we are concerned that by replacing revenue from known sources with less certain carbon tax revenue, this initiative could create a sizable short- and long-term budget shortfall that would put funding for schools, parks, safety net programs, and other state investments at risk. While the authors of I-732 sought to have no impact on the state budget, an analysis by the Office of Financial Management that appears in the state’s Voter’s Guide finds that I-732 will reduce general fund revenue by $797.2 million during the first six fiscal years.
The issue is that I-732 attempts to perfectly offset the costs of reducing the state sales and B&O taxes as well as the costs of funding the WFTR with revenues from a new carbon tax. Even if the authors of I-732 have been able to achieve a perfect balance in the first year or two (the Office of Financial Management’s analysis suggests they haven’t), that balance won’t likely hold. In the long run, sales tax revenues, the number of households eligible for the WFTR, and the B&O tax will grow at different rates. The carbon tax isn’t designed to adjust accordingly.
In addition, while a carbon tax could be a good tool for reducing air pollution and combatting climate change, many economists and public finance experts discourage using carbon taxes, cigarette taxes, and other “sin” taxes specifically for financing schools, health care, services for kids and seniors, and other ongoing investments. If new technologies or other unforeseen events lead to rapid transition to a low-carbon economy, revenues from a carbon tax could decline precipitously, threatening the funding for our schools and other important programs.
Our takeaway is not that I-732 is either good or bad carbon policy; our takeaway is that the concerns being expressed about its potential impact to the state budget and vital social services are valid.
Non-Binding Advisory Votes
This year’s ballot includes two non-binding advisory votes on fiscal issues. These advisory votes appear on the ballot because of Initiative 960, a 2007 Tim Eyman initiative that established cumbersome administrative requirements when the legislature takes action to close tax loopholes or raise revenue.
These non-binding advisory votes do not actually serve to inform voters. Instead they restrict the scope of the information provided to voters about the purpose and impacts of enacted tax changes. Nor do advisory notes promote a balanced discussion about tax policy changes enacted by lawmakers. Rather, the law includes a required template for writing ballot titles and descriptions that uses biased language specifically intended to skew the vote in favor of repealing any tax change. The Budget & Policy Center would support legislation to remove these advisory votes from the ballots or to provide a greater amount of information to enable voters to make reasoned fiscal policy decisions.
Nevertheless, both of the advisory votes on this year’s ballot reflect common sense fiscal policy changes that the legislature acted on in the 2016 session.
Advisory Vote #14: Clarifying taxation of stand-alone family dental plans
In the 2016 legislative session, the legislature overwhelmingly approved House Bill 2768, which clarified that some stand-alone family dental plans can be charged an insurance premium tax. This legislation is largely a technical change that allows the Washington Health Plan Finder to offer stand-alone adult dental insurance coverage through the state exchange.
Advisory Vote #15: Modifying tax exemption criteria for clean energy cars
Also in 2016, a broad majority of legislators voted to extend and narrow an existing tax break for customers who buy clean energy cars (House Bill 2778). This tax break is intended to encourage the use of clean alternative fuel vehicles in Washington. The public policy objective of this tax exemption is clearly stated, and a tax preference performance statement is included. While the exemption previously applied to all plug-in and alternative fuel cars, even niche, luxury cars like Teslas selling for $100,000 or more, the 2016 legislation limited the exemption to cars selling for $35,000 per year or less. This change will save the state money by more efficiently targeting the benefit toward consumers for whom a sales tax exemption would make a difference in their purchasing decisions.