State House Democrats’ revised version of spending plan, released Monday, eliminates their tax hike proposal on small businesses. It’s a welcome sign that the liberals who control the House are beginning to admit that their historic tax increase proposals are unnecessary. Certainly, state economists’ latest revenue projection (which reveals a total increase of $3.2 billion available to legislators over the current budget) placed pressure on Democrats to accept that reality.
Unfortunately, Speaker Frank Chopp and his minions have yet to give up on their income tax agenda—specifically, their state capital gains income tax.
Perhaps the greatest motivation behind Democrats’ continued insistence on tax hikes is their incessant desire to reward their million-dollar special interest campaign donors. GOP state Sen. Jan Angel recently pointed out that Democrats always argue that, if presented with more money, they would spend it wisely and certainly would not use it to “reward special interest groups that favor a particular political party.” Of course, from experience, that’s not true. Angel writes,
“The thing is, these special interests are more influential than ever. They were frustrated during the recession, when no sensible lawmaker was willing to raise taxes on a struggling populace. Now that times are a little better, we see a burst of creativity when it comes to new tax proposals – things like cap and trade, capital-gains income taxes and so on.”
The influence of special interest groups on Democrats is often—and easily—visible. House Democrats followed Jay Inslee’s lead and included in their spending plan pay raises and benefit increases to the tune of nearly one billion dollars for public employee union members—as conceded by Inslee during secret negotiations with top union officials. They were more than willing to sacrifice the pocketbooks of working families if it meant they could reward their million-dollar campaign donors, including the Washington Education Association (WEA), the Washington Federation of State Employees (WFSE) and several locals of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Democrats have even signaled their willingness to allow a state government shutdown if it means increasing taxes and rewarding special interests.
In fact, the only state employee union that faced funding cuts in the House Democrats’ original spending plan was the Public School Employees (PSE)—an SEIU local that represents school janitors, lunchroom personnel, bus drivers, etc. PSE was being punished for the unpardonable sin – for Democrats – of PSE’s contributions to the Washington State Republican Party and various Republican candidates for state Legislature.
House Democrats also appear ready to revise their spending plan, presumably to appease the WEA. You see, the initial draft of the Democrats’ revised spending plan removed a proposed $207 million spending increase for enriched health care benefits for school employees. During a press conference yesterday, state Rep. Ross Hunter confirmed that the health care revision received “a lot of blowback” from his fellow liberal caucus members and backpedaled from the cut. Hunter said that another amendment (presumably to re-instate all or some part of the $207 million) would be presented on Wednesday.
Part of Democrats’ insistence on new taxes may come from the fact that they know that, with a gubernatorial election year on the horizon, this year is their last opportunity to raise taxes in a while. As Smarter Government Washington recently pointed out, “Tax hikes will be politically unfeasible in 2016.” Inslee cannot be seen signing new taxes into law so close to an election year, especially considering he campaigned on a no-new-taxes promise last time around.
When Inslee called for a second special session last week, he urged lawmakers to find “middle ground” on the budget. But what Inslee evidently doesn’t understand is that you can’t find middle ground when you don’t even know where one end of a bargaining party’s ground begins. House Democrats continue to impede budget negotiations by refusing to vote on their tax hike proposals, that would show they have majority support for a balanced budget including massive tax increases. Because they lack the political courage to go on record for supporting their tax hikes, state Senate Republicans have no way of truly knowing whether or not a tax – like the state capital gains income tax – has enough support to pass the Democrat-controlled state House.
House Democrats’ refusal to take a vote on their tax hikes is a move of self-preservation. They don’t want to go on record of having voted for a new tax that may not even pass. Democrats’ political cowardice indicates that there is actually one thing they care more about then rewarding special interests: rewarding themselves.