The Goldendale Sentinel - Headlines & History since 1879

By Lou Marzeles

McCabe votes a lone 'no' on state budget


During her first session in the Washington legislature, Rep. Gina McCabe (R-Goldendale) has hit the ground running. She's seen her own bill signed by the governor. She's achieved high visibility as a freshman legislator, judging from comments by her peers.

And she voted no on the budget bills that just passed the legislature, differing sharply from the stands taken by her fellow District 14 legislators. While no one talks about the vote split as deeply serious, it did beg some questions.

"I couldn't do it," McCabe says. "When constituents asked me throughout this year and last, during my campaign for representation, to oppose larger government, harmful tax increases, and out-of-control state spending, I took their concerns to heart. I made a commitment. This session, the Legislature was tasked with passing a 2015-17 operating budget that would meet the state's four-year balanced budget requirement. We accomplished this task, and the agreed-upon budget makes some significant investments in schools, mental health, long-term care, and other social services. It was a difficult choice but I ultimately kept my word and voted against the operating budget, Senate Bill 6052."

McCabe says the concerns about the bill's overspending, misplaced allocations, and suspect funding of an organization such as Planned Parenthood overrode the better intentions of the legislation.

"Unfortunately, this budget increases government spending by 12 percent and leaves a very small ending fund balance for the next budget cycle," McCabe explains, "leaving little room for unexpected emergencies. This budget has been called a 'no new taxes' budget, and, yes, we did avoid an initial $1.5 billion tax proposal by the governor and House Democrats. But there are a number of new and smaller tax increases that harm businesses and patients. One is the 'click-through nexus' internet tax, which threatens popular internet vendors like eBay, Etsy, and others. Another is a new 37 percent tax on medical marijuana for patients, since they will be required to purchase at state-licensed stores unless they grow at home or are part of a cooperative. Bottom line: with $3.2 billion in revenue growth for this budget cycle, we don't need to enact more taxes and tax increases."

District 14 Sen. Curtis King talks about the bill's provisions from an historical perspective of years in the legislature. "When you look at an operating budget you have to realize that, at least since I've been in the legislature, they are all compromises," King says. "Well, over the last four years we have had control of the Senate and the Democrats have had control of the House and, obviously, the governor's office. So it depends on whether you want to look at the overall thing or whether you want to look at a very little element of it, because I can guarantee you, if you want to find a reason to vote no on an operating budget, it would be very easy to do so."

McCabe adds her no vote reflected concern about Planned Parenthood funding. "Our state funnels tens of millions of dollars to this organization that funds abortions," she says. "I am personally pro-life, and I respect the decisions of others, but I don't think taxpayers' dollars should be going toward this organization that has committed fraud in other states. Many taxpayers in the 14th District disapprove of this investment, and I'm hopeful we can work toward other investment solutions for necessary social services without funding this organization."

King says the issue is significant, of course, but needs to be viewed in a broader context. "This budget gives them one of the lower amounts that they have received in several years," he states. "But it's one of those deals where it's a big deal to the Democrats, and we don't like it, and if we had a choice we probably wouldn't fund it. But when you look at $25 million, it's not even a dark line in the scheme of a $38 billion budget."

Rep. Norm Johnson points out that other ardently pro-life legislators felt obliged to vote yes on the budget. "The example I will give you is Sen. [Mike] Padden from Spokane Valley," Johnson says. "He is an ardent opponent of abortion. We've had a couple of bills that I know of that have shown up and he interpreted that bill could possibly be used for abortion, and he was adamant that there is no way he was voting for that until it was ensured to him that that wasn't going to happen. He voted for this operating budget."

"The funding that is in there has been in there [for Planned Parenthood] for biennium after biennium after biennium," King says. "That doesn't mean it's right, but it's what happens when you have all of these interests. If you say it's got to be my way or nothing, then it's going to be nothing."

McCabe says she has no remorse about her stand. "It's disappointing I had to vote no on this budget," she says. "But I made a commitment to all the people who voted for me."

King and Johnson share intriguing insights into the political process in Olympia when they discuss the debacle over I-1351, a voter-approved initiative that mandates smaller classroom sizes at an anticipated cost of some $2 billion. A last-minute maneuver allowed the initiative's implementation to be delayed, saving the state from a huge budget hole-for the time being.

"The initiative just barely passed," King says. "I'm not sure it would have if the citizens had known what the cost of the bill would be. You have to identify what the costs are and where the money is coming from. It would have been a $2 billion hit in this biennium and $4 billion in the next-I mean, that's $6 billion in a $38 billion budget. Where are you going to get it?"

"If you reduce the class sizes, you have to have more rooms and more teachers," Johnson adds. "It's a domino effect because it affects the capitol budget because they have to build more schools or more school rooms."

King adds that in the end the Democrats tried to highjack the agenda on I-1351. "The House overwhelmingly passed the bill that said we were going to move it out four years. At the last minute it comes over to the Senate. We believe everything is agreed to, and it takes a super majority, a two-thirds vote to pass it, and they said, 'We don't like it, and we're not going to give you the votes.' They said, 'We're not going to give you the votes unless you pass one of our four bills.' And we said, 'We don't respond to blackmail.'"

The 2015 legislative session was the longest in Washington history, and King explains why, to his sense. "So I would say that initially the governor's proposal came out, and he said that we need $1.5 billion in new taxes to finish McCleary [a court-mandated public education directive], to handle mental health, and other matters," he recalls. "All this apart from I-1351. And this is the year that the House was supposed to come out with their budget first. We alternate biennium, and so they were supposed to come out with their budget. Well, the only thing they passed was a spending bill, which spent that $1.5 billion. So then in the Senate, we developed our own budget. It was a complete budget, it was balanced for four years, which by law it has to be. We did the whole thing, and we passed it out of the Senate. So the only thing the House had passed was the spending bill, and they wanted to negotiate. So we did, we negotiated. And we finally got to a stalemate, and we said, 'OK, we're really negotiating with ourselves because you haven't passed the bills that show you can raise that $1.5 billion.' And the reason they hadn't was because they didn't have enough votes. They didn't have enough votes to pass the capital gains tax." Essentially the House had proposed expenditures with no certainty of where the funds would come from.

"They knew where they wanted it to come from. But they had not passed the bills to do it, and they couldn't. They knew they couldn't. So finally our negotiator said, 'Pass your bills; when you pass your bills and show us you can raise your revenue and that it matches your budget, then we'll negotiate the budgets.'"

Then the revenue forecasts came out. It indicated that actually the state was already going to receive $8 billion in additional revenue. "So finally somewhere in the first or second special session, the governor came out and said, 'Hey, we don't need $1.5 billion; we've got enough money.' The Democrats would never say that this is so, but they painted themselves into this box. They said, 'We have got to have $1.5 billion,' but they couldn't pass it out of their own caucus and out of the House, and they wouldn't back off of it. So then when they started to get to the end of session, they were trying to find a way to save face. They were trying to find a way to get out of this box without just saying, 'The Senate's right, we're going to go to your position and we're going to go home.' That, in my opinion, is what this was all about."

"I think the Democrats in the House feel like they were thrown under the bus a couple of times," Johnson adds. "They were thrown under the bus by the governor, and then they were thrown under the bus by the Senate Democrats because they had reached an agreement. We should have been out of there."

Saving face, it turns out, is huge in Olympia, often irrespective of how expensive it is.

"How much of that is saving face?" King asks. "And so we have this click-through tax increase, which I don't know how much it generates, and I know that Gina said it was one of the reasons she voted against it. But basically my understanding of what this is that we have businesses in the state of Washington that deal over the internet and they sell product, and if you're in the state of Washington and you buy product from them, you pay the sales tax. But if you're outside of the state and you buy the same product, they don't have to charge you the tax. This bill says that they have to collect the tax just like they're in the state of Washington. So it made our businesses competitive with those outside of the state, and so how could you not say that's not a good thing? I mean, it's a tax increase, I understand that, but it's one of those areas where, yeah, it's a tax increase, but is it good for the state of Washington? And maybe more so for the businesses in the state of Washington, and the answer is yes."

McCabe showed her disagreement with her no vote. "It's a tax increase," she says. "That's not what my constituents want."


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