OLYMPIA – On the first day of the state’s 2015 legislative session, the battle over whether lawmakers should raise new tax revenue took on a new dimension.
Republicans in the state Senate pushed through a new rule requiring the chamber to have a two-thirds majority to enact any new taxes. Twenty-six senators approved the rule change.
The rule will apply only to new forms of tax revenue, according to Sen. Joe Fain, R-Covington. Existing taxes, like the sales or business and occupation taxes, could still be raised with a simple majority. Which means the higher bar would apply to two new revenue streams proposed by Gov. Jay Inslee: the capital gains tax and a cap-and-trade plan aimed at carbon polluters.
GOP Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, called the new rule a way to spur government reforms and force lawmakers to work with current revenues. Baumgartner was one of two sponsors of the change.
Democratic senators argued that the measure violated the state Constitution, but came up short in the vote tally now that Republicans control the chamber outright.
Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, unsuccessfully put forward an amendment requiring the rule change itself to clear a two-thirds majority vote.
Lawmakers this year are wrestling over how and whether to pay for several court- and voter-mandated costs for education and mental health programs, as well as other new proposed spending.