Rebuffing tax relief shows Washington Democrats’ priorities

Sen. Steve O'Ban is a Republican representing Pierce County’s 28th Legislative District.
Sen. Steve O'Ban is a Republican representing Pierce County’s 28th Legislative District. Washington State Legislative Support

You learn a lot about the priorities of people who suddenly come into money.

One lottery winner immediately went on a prolonged shopping spree and filled her closets with designer clothes, shoes and other consumer goods. A few years later, she had nothing left.

Another buys a home for her parents, donates to charities, keeps her job and retires very comfortably.

This year, the Legislature came into money — a lot of it — $2.3 billion more than what the current two-year budget anticipated. And this year —unlike the previous five years — Democrats controlled the state Senate, House and the Governor’s mansion.

This financial windfall gave us a chance to learn about the other party’s priorities.

On a positive note, Democrats continued with the priorities of past bipartisan budgets: continuing the Legislature’s emphasis on K-12 education required by the McCleary court decision and continuing additional spending on mental health.

These investments did not consume the entire $2.3 billion of additional revenue. Not by a long shot.

There was plenty of money left over to give taxpayers the property tax relief they clearly deserved.

When legislators built the current two-year budget in 2017, we increased education spending by $8.3 billion over four years to satisfy the McCleary court decision and made sure funding was equitable throughout the state.

Taxpayers in smaller and rural districts were paying more in property taxes than taxpayers in property-rich districts such as Seattle and other parts of King County.

The Legislature equalized property taxes across the state to fund basic education in such a way that we will pay more in 2018, before taxes actually drop in 2019 (below 2017 levels) in most counties, including Pierce.

Property taxpayers need relief this year, in 2018, when they will see a one-time tax bump. But my friends across the aisle rejected our proposed 100 percent property-tax cut for 2018, as proposed in Senate Bill 6439, and so missed a chance to return unbudgeted tax revenues of this magnitude to taxpayers.

Democrats responded instead with a token property tax cut — $90 on a $300,000 house — which won’t take effect until next year.

But this was not the only missed opportunity to provide-tax relief to hard-working middle-class taxpayers in 2018. Unbelievably, Democrats failed to provide any relief to car-tab taxpayers this year.

Last year, when my party controlled the Senate, we passed off the Senate floor, twice, my bill that offered substantial relief in the form of a 55-percent car-tab tax cut. The Democrat-controlled House refused to pass my bill.

Fast forward to 2018. My bill couldn’t even make it out of the Democrat-run Transportation Committee.

I expected Democrats would at least pass the meager $40 tax cut they offered last year. I was wrong. Despite controlling everything in Olympia, they didn’t pass any car-tab relief in 2018.

I have been grateful for strong bipartisan efforts to fully fund basic education, and other key policy areas.

But when it comes to tax relief, even when constituents demand it, the two parties have vastly different priorities on what to do when the government comes into unexpected money.

Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-Tacoma, represents the 28th Legislative District. Reach him by email at steve.oban@leg.wa.gov