This Washington

Revenue Bill Moves Forward; SEIU Local Says No

By Josh Cohen March 2, 2010

As we reported yesterday, House Finance Committee chairman Ross Hunter (D-48) has introduced a bill to create $857 million in revenue to help maintain current funding levels for state services like education, the basic health plan, children's health, and Medicaid by removing tax exemptions on things like out-of-state businesses, private planes, corporate board compensation, bottled water, elective cosmetic surgery, and candy and gum. The House Finance Committee held a packed public hearing for HB 3191 this morning before voting it out committee, six to five.

As expected, the bulk of the testimony was from business advocates citing the damning impact that getting rid of certain exemptions would have for small businesses or from health, education, and low-income advocates who praised the representatives for working to preserve social services.

There was, however, some less predictable testimony—including a Seattle businessman praising the removal of tax exemptions and SEIU Local 6 linking arms with the Republicans and business advocates in opposition to the removal of the tax exemption on janitorial services, worth about $19 million in revenue to the state this biennium.

SEIU Local 6 represents around 3,000 janitors in King, Pierce, Snohomish, and Spokane counties. Emily Sokoliski, a representative for Local 6, testified that the removal of the sales tax increase on janitorial services will disproportionately affect union janitors.

"This bill threatens our members' living wage and benefits," said Sokoliski.

According to Scott Freeman of Pacific Building Services, a janitorial company that only hires unionized workers, companies will be forced to pass the 9.5 percent sales tax increase to their customers, who will, in-turn, move to non-union janitorial services—leading to job loss.

Kalama Rep. Ed Orcutt (R-18), the Finance Committee's ranking Republican, made a similar argument to Publicola yesterday, saying the bill will be the difference between laying off employees or not for an employer in his district.

Other SEIU branches, including SEIU Healthcare 1199NW and 775NW and Local 925, are members of the Rebuilding our Economic Coalition—the group of Washington organizations that has pushed for a revenue solution all session—which voiced support for Rep. Hunter's revenue plan. Though it makes sense for the interests of their members, it's nonetheless noteworthy that the union testified against a revenue-raising bill.

Paul Purcell, President of Beacon Development Group, a 14-employee business in Seattle, also eschewed the standard line when he testified in support of increased revenue.

"I support this bill and applaud [the representatives] courage in supporting essential state services," said Purcell.
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