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Washington State Legislative Update

Posted Monday, November 16, 2015 by Bill Stauffacher, Stauffacher Communications.

alt textIn an off-year election typically focused on local races, House Republicans picked up a critical special election victory that reduces the House Democrats’ majority to one seat. The razor-tight House Democratic majority combined with the Senate Republicans’ two-seat majority means lawmakers will put on hold any significant action to address additional public education funding – including potential tax increases - until after the 2016 elections.

In this one critical legislative race, GOP challenger Teri Hickel defeated appointed Democratic Rep. Carol Gregory in the 30th District (Federal Way, in south King County suburban Seattle). Hickel’s campaign and independent expenditure ads hammered Gregory for supporting a state income tax during her tenure as president of state teacher’s union. Hickel, a local community leader whose husband served in the state legislature in the mid-to-late 90’s, is winning by a 54-46% margin. Gregory was appointed to the seat after the late Democrat Rep. Roger Freeman died a week before the 2014 election but still won the race.

In one other legislative race, appointed Republican Rep. Mary Dye defeated GOP challenger Richard Lathim in the 9th District (rural southeastern Washington). In this rock-solid GOP district, Dye, a wheat farmer, replaced a state legislator who was forced to resign over ethics violations involving expense reimbursement discrepancies.

Statewide Initiatives

Two initiatives on the 2015 ballot are passing:

· PASSING 54% - Initiative 1366 cuts the state sales tax rate from 6.5% to 5.5% on April 15, 2016 unless the Legislature places a constitutional amendment on the ballot requiring a two-thirds super-majority legislative vote for tax increases. Progressive left political groups intend to challenge the initiative as unconstitutional. While lawmakers privately believe I-1366 will be tossed by the state Supreme Court as unconstitutional, it is strange that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are taking so lightly a potential $1.4 billion annual reduction in state tax revenues.

· PASSING 70% - Initiative 1401 increases regulation and fines that involve commercial activities of 10 endangered or nearly extinct animal species.

Local Races/Issues of Note

· Snohomish County Executive: Democrat Snohomish Council Councilmember Dave Somers defeated incumbent Democrat Snohomish County Executive John Lovick in this top-two Democratic showdown. Somers’ victory may impact state House budget leadership as local Democrats will push newly appointed House Appropriations Committee chair Hans Dunshee to leave the state legislature for the county council.

· Seattle: The Emerald City’s progressive left voting reputation did not disappoint.

o Transportation: Voters passed a $930 million property tax levy to fund green-focused transportation improvements. The levy increase costs the average homeowner $279 a year.

o Public Financing of Campaigns: Voters also approved a public campaign finance measure that may lead to a statewide ballot issue.

o Socialism: Seattle voters re-elected a socialist to the Seattle City Council.

· Pierce County

o Minimum Wage: Tacoma votes approved a $12 per-hour minimum wage ballot measure phased in over four years (and rejected a competing $15 per-hour ballot proposal).

o Liquor: Fircrest voters ended a Prohibition-era ban on alcohol sales. This means the township of 6,000 residents will soon have beer and wine options at local restaurants.