Tarleton and Carlyle go over written audience questions.
Tarleton and Carlyle go over written audience questions.
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Washington’s 36th District lawmakers will head back to Olympia next week with big climate and tax reform goals for the 2019 legislative session, and to attempt to push through legislation backlogged for years under a GOP majority.

Democratic Sen. Reuven Carlyle and Reps. Gael Tarleton and Noel Frame responded to questions raised during a Saturday town hall at the newly opened Seattle Opera Center.

With the Trump administration backing out of the Paris Climate Accord, and the impending further decline of the southern resident orca population, Washington Democrats are putting a focus on climate action this session. Carlyle, who chairs the state Senate’s Energy, Environment & Technology Committee, said he’s excited to see climate take more focus in the Legislature when lawmakers return on Jan. 14.

Tarleton said she will be working with Carlyle on the House side of this session’s clean-energy goals, which include a 100-percent clean energy grid.

The last coal facility in Washington is currently being shut down in Centralia, Carlyle said.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is eyeing a 2045 target for reaching a fully clean-energy grid, and last month proposed a legislation package that would inject $268 million in investments into meeting that goal.

The senator said paying for these investments will require looking at revenue options other than a carbon tax, which Washington voters rejected when they opposed Initiative 1631 on November’s general election ballot; only 43 percent of voters approved. A similar initiative failed in 2016.

Legislation is also being proposed to increase sustainable building practices and appliance efficiency, Carlyle said.

Inslee’s package proposes more than $128 million to boost the state’s electric transportation systems, including more charging stations, two new electric-hybrid ferries, converting two ferries to electric-hybrid, promoting electric vehicles and an ultra-high speed rail system between Seattle, Portland and Vancouver, B.C.

“Moving toward electric vehicles requires public infrastructure,” Carlyle said, “so there’s an important bill that would allow (Seattle) City Light to basically provide basic infrastructure more easily and put that across the rate base, so basically a small amount across the entire system as both commercial and residential options.”

Salmon restoration will also be addressed this session, including how to manage predation by sea lions, hatchery use, and commercial and recreational fishing.

“I think all of us know that we are witnessing in real time the literal extinction of our iconic orcas,” Carlyle said.

The plight of the critically endangered southern resident orca population was on display for the world to see when a female orca swam with her dead calf for more than two weeks last summer. Another orca has died since then, and two more are expected to perish sometime this year due to a lack of food.

While human and marine predators are part of the reduced food supply for the orcas, Carlyle said Chinook salmon are also being poisoned by poor water quality.

The senator said he will be working on a cap-and-trade bill that would have Washington join a trading system similar to what exist in Europe and California, and one that Oregon is considering.

Tarleton, who chairs the House Finance Committee, said this session will also be spent working on reforming the state’s tax system — long hampered by the fact an income tax was deemed unconstitutional — including basing the business and occupation (B&O) tax on profits rather than gross revenues.

“The B&O system is not a reformable system,” she said. “It was a replacement system to generate a lot of money from businesses, but it’s not a reformable system, because there is not an economy in the world that should be taxing the fact that companies hire people and grow and do business.”

Frame is also pushing to reform the B&O tax structure, and would like to explore a corporate income tax on profits.

“Guys, the B&O tax is being passed through right to you; you just don’t see it,” said Frame, who is a main sponsor of reform legislation.

Tarleton said this session legislators will also try to pass a capital gains tax on high-earners on their stocks and bonds. The representative cautioned there would be a number of parameters put in place, “because we have heard from a lot of constituents who have fixed income and retirement and are relying on some of that portfolio that they have.” While this is being taken up in the House, Tarleton said it will be a lot more complicated should it reach the Senate.

“It’s not a sure thing because the Senate, it’s a different complexion,” Tarleton said, “it is a different complexity, it is a different group of people representing different districts and different constituencies in the state.”

She wants a proviso be that a group is formed that assesses a complete reform of Washington’s tax system before the state reaches its predicted population of nine million by 2030.

Frame said she also wants to put funding behind a working families tax credit that is already on the books, but she wants to make sure such property tax relief can also benefit renters.

The representative also wants to change the property tax exemption requirements for low-income seniors and veterans from a flat $40,000 disposable income to an index based on median incomes in each county.

Magnolia Bridge

While Tarleton no longer serves on the House’s transportation committee, she said the 36th District lawmakers are committed to ensuring that the Magnolia Bridge is treated as part of the transportation network when changes occur in the Interbay corridor, such as Sound Transit’s ST3 light rail expansion that will cross Salmon Bay and into Ballard. She said regional transportation agencies have not traditionally done well at communicating and coordinating planning.

“So we created a working group that put those entities together to address not just the Magnolia Bridge, but the Magnolia Bridge as a part of a transportation network that feeds our entire northwest corridor of Seattle down to Sea-Tac International Airport,” Tarleton said.

The bridge is in need of replacement, but a 1:1 replacement is estimated to cost up to $420 million. It was constructed in 1930, and its replacement has been stalled for more than a decade.

Education

Carlyle said he agrees with the Washington Supreme Court’s assessment that the Legislature has not adequately funded special education as part of its requirement under the McCleary decision, adding that was partly due to needing information about what costs districts were paying.

“We have that data now; it is job one, we’re gonna fund special education,” he said.

On the topic of districts, Carlyle said he’s concerned about Seattle Public Schools’ levy to appear on ballots during the February special election. The Educational Programs and Operational (EP&O) Levy seeks to raise about $815 million through 2022. The senator said the levy does not acknowledge the increase in state funding lawmakers approved last session.

“I am deeply unsettled by the fact that we have doubled property taxes in this city in five years,” said Carlyle, adding the burden on the middle class, low-income residents and seniors needs to be considered. “That does not mean I am not enthusiastic in any way about supporting the school district. We want them to be successful, and we want to fully fund education, which is a state obligation.”

A Building Excellence (BEX V) capital levy also on the February ballot would raise another $1.4 billion.

The senator referred back to the capital gains tax to be considered again in Olympia, saying he doesn’t just want to add revenue; he also wants to provide residents with property tax relief.

Tarleton and Frame said they will be working to get state financial aid for higher education funded to cover the existing 18,000 students in Washington that qualify for it.

Frame said new revenue needs to be realized to cover more faculty, scholarships and fellowships at four-year state colleges and universities. Tarleton also wants more investments in technical colleges.

This was the first public event to be held at the Opera Center, said general director Aidan Lang, which the 36th District lawmakers supported with state funding through the Building for Arts program.