Morning Fizz: Tragicomic Coincidence
Caffeinated news and gossip featuring Democrats fighting sprawl; Republicans fighting abortion; Democrats against tax loopholes; and wait, Republicans for raising taxes?
1. Fizz has been looking for a new phrase for "ironic" or "hypocritical," so file this one under tragicomic coincidence:
Despite all the Republican howling against raising taxes—and particularly in light of their stand against allowing King County to have a local option to raise taxes for bus service—King County's own Republican state Sen. Andy Hill (R-45, Redmond), the Majority Coalition Caucus's senate ways and means chair, is sponsoring a bill granting a local option to raise taxes.
Sen. Hill's bill, which he passed out of ways and means last week and which the rules committee subsequently cued up this week for a floor vote—would allow counties to use a 0.1 property or sales tax increase to fund cultural organizations like the Northwest Ballet and the Seattle Opera (both organizations testified in favor).
Despite all the Republican howling against a local option to raise taxes for bus service, Republican state Sen. Andy Hill (R-45, Redmond), the senate ways and means chair, is sponsoring a bill granting a local option to raise taxes for the opera.
So, Hill is all in for raising local taxes to fund the opera, but not for bus service? (We wonder how his suburban Seattle constituents who flooded Seattle via Metro for yesterday's Seahawks parade feel about that.)
Hill and three other Republicans—Sens. John Braun, R-20, Centralia; Barbara Bailey, R-10, Oak Harbor; and Jim Honeyford, R-15, Sunnyside—voted for the bill in committee.
To their credit, five other Republicans were consistent and voted against the bill, including Republican senate leader Mark Schoesler (R-9, Ritzville).
Sen. Rodney Tom (D-48, Medina), Hill's Seattle suburban colleague who has joined with Hill's Republicans to control the senate, also showed some consistency by voting 'No' in committee. That's more than we can say for Sen. Hill.
2. Liberal state Rep. Timm Ormsby (R-3, Spokane) made the deadline. Yesterday was cutoff day for passing bills out of house policy committees, and yesterday morning, the local government committee Democrats yea, Republicans nay passed an Ormsby bill that fixes a (kind of unbelievable) loophole in the state's Growth Management Act.
The GMA, a set of landmark state laws passed in 1990 and 1991, oversees zoning to rein in sprawl and encourage smart development and efficient use of infrastructure by, for example, setting up Urban Growth Areas to protect rural land and increase density.
Ormsby's green bill fixes a (kind of unbelievable) loophole in the state's Growth Management Act.
A loophole in the law allows development to go forward even if the Growth Management Hearings Board (the seven-member board of regional appointees that makes sure development plans are kosher under the GMA) invalidates a local development plan or ordinance. That's because Washington state's pro-developer "vesting" laws give developers building rights the minute their required paperwork is in. If the GMA Board subsequently invalidates the land use law that allowed the development, vested projects are unaffected and still move forward.
Last year, a few months after Spokane County expanded its growth area, the GMHB ruled that the expansion ran afoul of the GMA. However, about 640 lots on six different properties on the now off-limits turf were good-to-go because the developers had already turned in the required paperwork and were all vested.
Ormsby's bill would shut down that development freebie by requiring a 60-day waiting period for vesting on land that has been added to an urban growth area or until the GMHB has rejected any formal challenge to the expansion.
Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon (D-34, Burien), one of the house committee members who approved Ormsby's bill, had an even stronger fix: Fitzgibbon's legislation would have stopped development if the GMHB subsequently ruled against the expansion even if the projects had vested. Fitzgibbon's bill did not make it out of committee, though.
3. This morning's batch of Fizz clips:
Yesterday, the house passed the Reproductive Parity Act, a pro-choice priority bill that mandates that any insurer that covers maternity care must also cover abortions.
And whoa. In his floor speech against the bill, Rep. Leonard Christian (R-4, Spokane Valley) compared the legislation—which social conservatives argue prohibits anti-abortion insurance customers from exercising their religious conscience—to silencing dissent in Nazi Germany as Jews were shipped to death camps.
For the record, the RPA comes with a conscience clause for religiously affiliated insurers that states: "No individual health care provider, religiously sponsored health carrier, or health care facility may be required by law or contract in any circumstances to participate in the provision of or payment for a specific service if they object to so doing for reason of conscience or religion" provided they promptly tell enrollees how and where they can access those services.
As for enrollees themselves who object to paying premiums to an insurer that provides abortion, we've pointed out the problems with that slippery slope before. And one RPA proponent, Rep. Laurie Jinkins (D-27, Tacoma) dismantled the impractical philosophy of personally-tailored conscience clauses during her floor speech yesterday as well.
4. The house finance committee is holding a public hearing today on Rep. Reuven Carlyle's (D-36, Queen Anne) bill to close an oil industry loophole. The oil industry has been taking advantage of a break—originally and wisely intended for wood products companies who heat their own facilities with byproduct bio-mass—by getting a sneaky break on oil production. Carlyle's bill would limit the tax exemption to biomass.
Closing the exemption for the oil industry is worth $60 million to the state in the 2015-2017 biennium and $55 million in the 2017-2019 biennium. It's worth about $30 million this year. Carlyle wants to direct the money to K–12 funding. And Gov. Jay Inslee is counting on closing the loophole as part of his pledge to put an extra $200 million toward education funding this year to meet the Washington State Supreme Court's McCleary mandate to fund education; the court issued an order in early January saying the state was off track to meet the mandate.
5. Lyft, the pink-mustache ridesharing company, announced yesterday that it's partnering with California's Pubic Utility Commission and offering a new, $1 million insurance plan in California—the same level of insurance Seattle wants ridesharing companies to offer, at a minimum, here.
In Seattle, much in contrast to California, the council is moving to adopt regulations that ridesharing companies say could shut them down, including not just a $1 million insurance minimum but restrictions on the number of licenses the city will issue to ridesharing drivers (300, for a total of 100 for each of the three existing ridesharing companies, Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar) and a limit of 16 hours per week for drivers who don't go through the process of getting a special for-hire driver's license much like those issued to taxi drivers.