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Dear Friends and Neighbors,

The Legislature adjourned on April 28. It was the first time since 2009 the Legislature ended the 105-day legislative session on time. There were a number of accomplishments, but I was very concerned with the spending level of the operating budget and the number of tax increases passed.

In this end of session review, I give a brief overview of: the operating budget, taxes that passed, some capital budget projects for Clark County, Tobacco 21, vaccination legislation, and some bipartisan accomplishments.

Operating budget

The two-year operating budget passed by the majority party is about $52.4 billion. This represents an $8 billion increase (or an 18% increase) over current spending levels. I am very concerned this is unsustainable and not fiscally responsible. If we have any type of economic downturn, like many economists are predicting to happen in the next two or three years, we will be forced to make many painful cuts. You can see by the budget chart how quickly our spending levels have increased over the last decade.

Tax increases

Despite record revenue growth and a $2.8 billion budget surplus, the majority party passed $5.5 billion in tax increases over the next four years. The most devastating one for Southwest Washington is:

  • Senate Bill 5997 – turning the nonresident sales tax exemption into a remittance/refund program. Oregonians will no longer be exempt from our state sales tax. This will hurt our businesses along the Washington-Oregon border. Some of our businesses have as much as 40-65% of their business come from across the Columbia River.

Some of the tax measures include:

  • House Bill 2158 – a Business and Occupation (B&O) tax surcharge. A 20% increase on B&O taxes for certain services;
  • Senate Bill 5998 – a progressive Real Estate Excise Tax (REET). This bill creates a graduated tax rate – the higher the cost of the home, the higher the REET percentage. It’s currently at 1.28% but could go as high as 3%, depending on the price of the home;
  • House Bill 2167 – increases taxes on banks. Banks with a net income of $1 billion or more in a calendar year are required to pay an extra 1.2% in B&O taxes. This is on top of the B&O rate increase mentioned previously.
  • SB 5993 – MTCA (petroleum) tax increase. – This changes the hazardous substance wholesale taxation formula for petroleum products from a percentage one to a per-barrel one. This will raise the price of gas.

We are experiencing a historic inflow of revenue from you, the taxpayers. We did not need to raise taxes. I believe we could have covered our priorities – mental health, special education, school employee benefits, affordable housing, addressing homelessness and the opioid epidemic – with existing revenues.

Tobacco 21

Last month, the governor signed my Tobacco 21 legislation into law. House Bill 1074 will prohibit the sale of cigarettes, tobacco and vapor products to anyone under the age of 21. I truly believe it will save lives as we get tobacco and other related products off of school campuses. In fact, there is talk that the federal government is also considering making it a nationwide policy.

The statistics are alarming. According to the 2014 U.S. Surgeon General’s report, nearly 95% of smokers started smoking before age 21. The average age that a daily smoker has their first cigarette is 15, and the average age a person starts daily smoking is 18. The new law will take effect on Jan. 1, 2020.

Gov. Inslee signs the Tobacco 21 legislation at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

Vaccinating to prevent disease

As you know, Clark County was faced with a very serious measles outbreak. Concerned with the safety of my constituents and surrounding communities, I introduced House Bill 1638 that would eliminate the personal exemption for the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine. The governor signed the bill into law today (Friday).

By not vaccinating kids we are putting those who cannot be vaccinated at risk, including infants and those with compromised immune systems. This legislation aligns with what the courts have said all along – protecting public health is a paramount duty.

Capital budget

The capital budget passed the Legislature with strong, bipartisan support. It addresses the priorities and immediate needs of our state such as mental health and education infrastructure.

It also includes funding for a handful of projects in Clark County – including $1.75 million dollars for the Tenney Creek Assisted Living Project. This would be a 3-story, 40-unit facility to house individuals with complex behavioral and physical health challenges. This will address a gap in services for people who are homeless or who are exiting institutions and need assistance with daily living activities.

The capital budget also includes $388,000 for the Evergreen School District Health Clinic, and $4.8 million for the Terminal 1 waterfront development.

Rep. Harris leads the opening prayer before floor debate in the House.

Bipartisan accomplishments

The 2019 session featured several important bipartisan successes passed into law. House Bill 1599 is one of those measures. Sponsored by Rep. Monica Stonier and I, it would create flexibility with graduation standards. Students need to have different options after high school. My five children took very different paths in their education after graduation. Education is not one-size-fits-all.

Other successes this session include:

  • establishment of new rules regarding opioid prescribing and dispensing of opioid overdose reversal medication;
  • a December 2021 deadline set for the Washington State Patrol to eliminate the rape kit backlog;
  • eliminating the statute of limitations for sex crimes committed against minors, and extending the statute of limitations for most other sex offenses;
  • expanding broadband to enable economic development, public safety and health; and
  • requiring the Department of Natural Resources to prioritize forest health treatments to include long, narrow wildfire prevention corridors and share the information with firefighting personnel.

Keep in touch

If you have any questions, comments or concerns about what happened in the Legislature, please do not hesitate to contact me. I would also encourage you to get in touch with my office if you need any assistance with a state government issue, or would like to discuss any policy issues of concern. While we are not in session, I represent you year round.

It is an honor to represent the 17th District!


Paul Harris

State Representative Paul Harris, 17th Legislative District
426A Legislative Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7976 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000