There's so much action in the legislature this week, that we're doing a third Fizz post today.
1. Snohomish County Democrats, including conservative Democratic Sen. Steve Hobbs (D-44, Lake Stevens) read the conservative Association of Washington Business (AWB) the riot act yesterday for opposing a transit funding bill.
The bill, sponsored by a crew of Snohomish Democrats including Sen. Nick Harper (D-32, Everett) and Rep. Marko Liias (D-21, Edmonds), would allow Snohomish County to levy a one percent motor vehicle excise tax (MVET) (to be approved by voters) to help fund Community Transit, their bus system.
Hobbs slapped the AWB for contradicting the position of the local business lobby, the Economic Alliance of Snohomish County.
AWB spokesman Michael Ennis, testifying in opposition to the bill, simply said that the AWB opposes the measure because drivers shouldn't be charged for non-highway purposes.
"If we get more [drivers] off the road using public transit, doesn't that benefit drivers?"–State Sen. Andy BilligSen. Andy Billig (D-3, Spokane), pounced: "If we get more [drivers] off the road using public transit, doesn't that benefit drivers? So it seems like if you make your statement that these fees should only benefit drivers… they do benefit drivers."
Then Sen. Christine Rolfes (D-23, Bainbridge) wanted to know if it was the official position of Washington businesses that they don't want drivers to fund transit.
"I just want to clarify that its the position of business in the state of Washington that drivers should not help fund transit."
Ennis said businesses wanted transit funding, but signed off on Rolfes' reading that the AWB didn't think drivers should be responsible. "That’s our position, yes."
Rolfes: "It's good to have that clarified, thank you."
Someone did ultimately come to the AWB's defense, though—Sen. Tim Sheldon (D-35, Potlach), the renegade Democrat who is caucusing with the Republicans this session. He said AWB was waiting to see the details of Rep. Judy Clibborn's (D-41, Mercer Island) more comprehensive transportation funding package.
However, watch for AWB to fight against a hefty transit commitment in Clibborn's package, which, ironically (some details were announced yesterday), proposes to fund transit through local funding options.
2. File this one under "Isn't it Weird That."
Republicans are trying to pass a bill that could raise taxes.
Sen. Doug Ericksen (R-42, Ferndale), a Republican ideologue, is trying to move a bill out of his committee today that could eventaully help the Republicans raise taxes.
The bill would repeal a tax exemption for residential phone customers; there's currently a 6.5 percent tax on phone use that people who use traditional land lines don't pay. It would take a two-thirds vote of the legislature to repeal the exemption (because the legislature has interpreted the two-thirds rule as requiring a supermajority to end tax exemptions).
Cell phone companies such as Sprint and Verizon have complained that their cell phone customers have to pay the tax. In fact, Sprint sued the state in Thurston County Superior Court in 2011 and won; the court took their side and said they didn't have to pay the tax. The state was looking at paying out hundreds of millions of dollars in refunds and forgoing future revenue. However, the decision was vacated when Sprint struck a private deal with the Department of Revenue.
But the precedent is still out there, and now Verizon has filed suit.
By repealing the exemption, there would be no double standard, and the cell phone companies wouldn't have a case. Moreover, the state would get a windfall of about $80 million from land line customers.
Ericksen is trying to stick to his GOP philosophy by adding an amendment today that would lower the tax rate, making the bill revenue neutral.
However, look for Republican ways and means chair state Sen. Andy Hill (R-45, Kirkland) to get rid of the Ericksen amendment and go for the $80 million. We have a call in to Hill.
UPDATE: I guess it was too weird. GOP senate staff told us late this afternoon that Ericksen's bill did not come up in committee today. The legislation has big implications for the budget—if they don't repeal the break, cell phone companies are going to sue the state for hudreds and millions of dollars. So, despite not making policy cut off, Ericksen's bill, in some form, is likely to be in play as legislators deal with the budget later in the session.
3. The house higher education committee passed the DREAM Act bill today 14-4, with all the committee's Democrats, plus five Republicans—Reps. Susan Fagan (R-9, Pullman), Norma Smith (R-10, Clinton), Norm Johnson (R-14, Yakima), Hans Zeiger (R-25 Puyallup), and Maureen Walsh (R-16, Walla Walla)—on board.
Carryn had a great interview with one of the two Republican sponsors of the bill, Rep. Charles Ross (R-14, Naches) late last week.