With the 105-day legislative session behind them, representatives from Southwest Washington’s 18th Legislative District kicked off the Memorial Day Weekend with a series of town hall meetings in Camas, Yacolt and Salmon Creek.
Even though it was a holiday weekend, the meeting was decently attended by people concerned about a variety of issues, including taxes, land use regulations, gun rights and education funding.
The legislators touched on issues like the increased B&O (business and opportunity) tax, as well as the change to an annual tax exemption for Oregon buyers in Washington state. On May 21, Gov. Jay Inslee officially signed the bill that ends the current sales tax exemption for Oregon residents. Both Rep. Brandon Vick, R-Vancouver, and Rep. Larry Hoff, R-Vancouver, have been very vocal about opposing the removal of the tax exemption.
In a recent email to the Vancouver Business Journal, Vick said: “Removing this exemption will take money out of our local economy to feed unrestrained spending in Washington. Olympia is seeing record taxpayer revenue coming into the state coffers. Yet, we are going to punish southwest Washington for a few more million dollars when we increased spending by nearly $8 billion, or almost 18%, for a $52.5 billion budget.”
During the recent town hall meetings, 18th District legislators said voters in the state will need to decide who they really are and what they expect from their representatives.
“Washington’s always been very interesting to me in the fact that I mean, you put a tax on the ballot, it fails, right? The voters, in general, seem to be pretty careful of their pocketbook,” said Vick. “And then on the social side of things, you know, kind of a ‘carpe diem,’ right? I mean, conservative viewpoint doesn’t generally win at the ballot box there.”
“I think we need to find people, and we are, that are much more heavily in tune with their community to start with,” Vick responded, “but maybe represent some of the changes that are going on in our state.”
The 18th District lawmakers all said they believe the massive budget increases approved this past session, along with the increased tax burden that it will bring for many residents, could be the most effective recruiting tool the GOP has in its arsenal.
“I think the voters are going to have to reposition themselves,” said Vick. “At some point, they’re going have to pay. And, gosh, I mean, I don’t know how many families are just rolling in cash right now, especially after this legislative session.”
Another resident wondered if there was any talk this past session of property tax relief for senior citizens on a fixed income. Rivers said there was a bill introduced in the Senate to that effect, “and then it went over to the House and it came back and ended up being a King County only bill. So, it focused only on residents in King County, and cut everyone else in the rest of the state away,” she said. “And that’s reflective of the partisan makeup. Seattle has such density that they have greater representation than we do down here in the more rural areas. And so they can do those kinds of things.”
On education funding, the lawmakers said it’s their view that moves made by the Legislature this year practically guarantee another lawsuit like McCleary.
“Probably in two or three years,” said Rivers. “We put, I think, $11 billion more into public education, still not enough. And I said this at the last Town Hall, and I thought maybe one of the community members was going to wring my neck, but I believe this to my core, it doesn’t matter how much we can put in, we could put in $50 billion more, it’s already 52 percent of our total state budget. And it will never ever be enough.”
Some Republican lawmakers have maintained that a bipartisan bill introduced in 2018 would have limited raises in the first two years of the additional state funding, to allow districts time to adjust to the levy swap. Those were removed in the final party-line bill passed last session.
“I was a teacher, middle school math and science,” said Rivers. “And so I know the gig, I know the drill, I understand what it’s like to be in the classroom. So, it’s not that. It’s just that at some point, you have to say, when is enough enough?”
This past session, Democrats pushed through a bill that will allow some districts to increase their maximum local levy rate. However, the bill mandates that the money go to additional programs rather than teacher wages, so time will tell if it ends up creating a new inequity that Republicans are warning of.
But when you’re facing a minority in the House, Senate and Governor’s mansion, the theme of a Republican town hall meeting these days tends to take on the tone of an apology tour.
“It doesn’t feel good to say ‘eh, there wasn’t anything we could do on that one,’” Vick said. “But I just, right now, it’s ‘let me do what I can do outside of the Legislature, and we’ll give another shot next year.’ That’s really the best answer I can give.”
“I hate to bandy the word around freely, but we killed a bunch of bills that would make you projectile vomit,” added Hoff.
“People don’t know. People have no idea what actually happened in this session,” added Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center. “And so part of our job is to let people know and, you know, people across the spectrum may respond differently, but at least we’ll all have the information and then they can do what they want.”
Chris Brown is a reporter with ClarkCountyToday.com, and this article first appeared on the Clark County Today website.