Last Minute Tax Breaks in Olympia
1. Supporters of the affordable housing legislation that speaker of the house state representative Frank Chopp (D-43, Wallingford) refused to move to the floor for a vote on cutoff day last Friday have pointed out that Chopp’s righteous stand against tax breaks isn’t very consistent; the housing legislation gave a property tax break to—gasp!—landlords who set aside 25 percent of their units for workforce housing.
But also on Friday, Chopp signed off on a bill, estimated to cost the state $284,000 in its first year, to give a tax break to airplane repair maintenance facilities if they employ at least 100 people at $80,000 a year over the next four years. This tax break bill was introduced in the senate today; in a critical blog post this weekend, state senator Reuven Carlyle (D-36, Ballard), a tax break hawk in his most recent former role as the house finance chair, raised some serious philosophical questions about the airplane facility bill.
Carlyle and Seattle’s state senate delegation unanimously approved the affordable housing bill—which was estimated to create 3,000 affordable units to a two-person household making up to $43,000— and it was sponsored in the house by Seattle state representative Noel Frame (D-36, Ballard).
The bill, which came with an auditing mandate to ensure landlords who got the break were indeed providing the housing, is a key part of the city’s housing affordability agenda; at its weekly briefing from the city lobbying team yesterday, council got the news that the bill didn’t make the legislative deadline to pass out of the house. Afterward, District Four (which includes Wallingford) Seattle city council member Rob Johnson groused: “There’s nothing wrong with accountable tax breaks that move our region toward a positive public policy goal. In this case the property tax exemption bill would get us rent stability and more affordable housing.”
Lobbying staff noted, as supporters of the bill such as state representative Brady Walkinshaw (D-43, Capitol Hill) have theorized, that the legislation is “necessary to implement the budget” (NITB in Olympia speak) and so could be revived and passed in the next 48 hours during the budget horsetrading grand finale.
2. Speaking of smart bills that are running up against this session’s pending deadline: legislation that would make sure employers accommodate pregnant workers—by providing flexibility for breaks and health care—was scaled back by the GOP controlled senate to exempt nonprofits and limit the list of accommodations. The senate version, for example, doesn’t require employers to make accommodations for manual labor and doesn’t guarantee time off for childbirth.
The Democratic house balked at those changes, restored their initial language, and sent it back to the senate. In addition to relying on the initial senate moderate Republican bill sponsors, women’s advocacy groups also find themselves hoping traditional foes in the senate, like “pro-family” social conservatives, will help restore the bill and pass it.
3. Another topnotch candidate has thrown their hat into the ring for the open 43rd District state house seat: labor organizer Marcus Courtney. Courtney, currently the senior field representative for the Seattle AFL-CIO, emerged as a labor organizing trailblazer in the late 1990s when, as a contract Microsoft engineer, he stirred up his peers to form the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers, setting out to organize the new class of dotcom era “Microtemps” as he called them at the time. Courtney’s prescient movement flagged the coming, so-called “gig economy” in many ways.
Courtney joins a formidable crew of candidates seeking the open seat (incumbent 43rd district representative Walkinshaw is running for U.S. congress) including trans community leader, Gender Justice League director Danni Askini and longtime affordable housing advocate, Downtown Emergency Services Center housing director Nicole Macri. Also in the race: gay rights activist Tom Pitchford, Washington Environmental Council associate Sameer Ranade, and ACLU board member and trial lawyer Dan Shih.
4. Watch for longtime lieutenant governor Brad “Laaaaaast Liiiiiiiine!” Owen to announce today that he’s not seeking reelection. Democrat Owen has expertly overseen much of the partisan parliamentary drama in recent years including the 2012 GOP budget coup and the recent floor vote to oust Washington State Department of Transportation director Lynn Peterson.
Owen has also had to issue decisions on technical battles over two-thirds-to-raise- taxes maneuvering, typically siding with the Democrats (as the supreme court eventually did.)
Several candidates have already filed to run for the seat, including three Democratic state senators: Karen Fraser (D-22, Thurston County), Cyrus Habib (D-48, Kirkland), and Steve Hobbs (D-44, Lake Stevens). Habib has raised the most money, more than $300,000.