Politics & Government

Under the Dome for Jan. 15

Good morning. Today is Friday, Jan. 15, the fifth day of the 60-day session.

QUOTED

“The federal government doesn’t have the authority.”

– Rep. Bill Hinkle, R-Cle Elum, explaining at a rally why he proposed a bill to keep Washington residents free of any federal mandate to participate in health care programs passed by Congress.

“We want to lead the state out of recession. They want to lead the state out of the country.”

– Rep. Jeff Morris, D-Mount Vernon, in a news release about the House Republicans’ various “Tea Party” proposals, including one that Morris said would open the door to criminals getting access to firearms and “cop-killing bullets” without having to undergo a criminal background check.

EARLY ACTION

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said lawmakers are gearing up for early action next week on a number of cost-cutting moves, including passage of a pay freeze for all state workers that replaces one that expired July 1. Labor contracts call for no cost-of-living raises for unionized employees, and Brown told reporters in a weekly briefing session that the Senate Democrats think it is a good policy for all workers.

UNEMPLOYMENT PAY

Washington paid out a record $3.967 billion in jobless benefits last year, the state Employment Security Department reported. That included an added $45 weekly benefit that lawmakers approved; it lapsed early this month.

Employment Security broke down claims and payments by county. A low of $401,032 was paid to 80 claimants in rural Garfield County and a high of $1.186 billion was paid to 121,020 claimants in populous King County.

The numbers for South Sound:

Thurston County: 13,861 claims, $112,150,702

Pierce County: 55,516 claims, $481,548,245

Grays Harbor County: 6,534 claims, $51,518,881

Lewis County: 6,752 claims, $50,331,006

Mason County: 4,116 claims, $31,246,166

SLAP AT BOEING

Rep. Brendan Williams, D-Olympia, took another slap at the establishment, introducing a bill that requires aerospace companies receiving tax breaks to periodically reaffirm that they have “a commitment to the economic well-being of residents in the state of Washington.”

That’s perhaps a long way of spelling out the name Boeing Commercial Airplanes.

Williams said House Bill 2833 has 13 co-sponsors and requires firms to sign declarations affirming their commitment. In a news release that mentions Boeing’s decision to buy a plant in South Carolina and build its second 787 line there, Williams said: “This is about accountability. Our state’s economy, and the homebuilding industry that is a vital part of it, will not recover if companies are free to take tax breaks and spend our taxpayers’ money out-of-state instead of supporting family-wage jobs here in Washington.”

TOBACCO TAXES

Bills raising cigarette taxes by $1 per pack to $3.025 have a shot at passage this year, legislative leaders say.

Two House committees heard Democratic Rep. Eileen Cody’s proposal, House Bill 2493, in committee Thursday. It featured a clash between business groups that fear a tax increase might kill off jobs in the neighborhood groceries and those who think a higher tax can save the cost of caring for people who have no insurance and get sick from smoking.

House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam, declined to say how likely the tobacco tax will be to pass, but did say lawmakers are “trying to put a lot of tools in our basket” for a tax package.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, suggested the idea has a real chance of passage and said Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, is developing a tobacco-tax proposal of his own.

“We are extremely disappointed that so early in session we are talking about tax increases … Taxes should not be an option, particularly on the fourth day of session,” Amber Carter, a lobbyist for the Association of Washington Business, testified. She called tobacco taxes excessive, unstable and a declining source of revenue.

Washington already levies $2.025 per pack, and Justin Erickson of Harbor Wholesale in Tumwater said costs for a carton would go up to more than $70, increasing the theft risk for wholesalers and retailers. He called the tax “regressive” and said it typically hits lower-income people who are more likely to smoke.

But Chris Sherwin of the American Heart Association said most states have raised tobacco taxes in recent years and that tobacco use is down. Sherwin said each pack of cigarettes sold costs $16 in lost worker productivity and health costs.

A related issue on the taxation of moist snuff by weight gets a hearing at 8 a.m. today in the House Finance Committee.

Compiled by Brad Shannon, The Olympian

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