Despite being minority party, state Republicans gearing up for a fight

Washington state Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, has issued a list of priorities for the Senate Republican Caucus in the 2018 Legislative session. Photo from the Senate Republican Caucus website

Washington state Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, has issued a list of priorities for the Senate Republican Caucus in the 2018 Legislative session. Photo from the Senate Republican Caucus website

While Democrats have majorities in the Washington state Legislature, Senate Republicans aren’t backing down on their agenda in the 2018 session, which began Jan. 8.

The Senate Republican Caucus issued a statement by Sen. Mark Schoesler of Ritzville ahead of the session.

In it, Schoesler vows to pull back the “Emerald City Curtain,” a reference to the perception that Seattle controls state politics.

“An extremist ideology seizes the state’s largest and most affluent city, we have seen an ‘Emerald City Curtain’ raised higher and higher. It has blinded urban leaders to the difficulties the rest of us face,” Schoesler said in the statement.

Republicans had previously held a one-vote majority in the state Senate up until the 2017 special election, where 45th Democrat Manka Dhingra defeated her Republican challenger. Democrats now command a one-vote lead in the Senate and control the Governor’s office and the House of Representatives.

Democrats have made issues such as enacting stricter gun control, changing the taxing mechanism for funding basic education away from property tax on wealthy districts and passing a capital budget.

Passing a carbon tax and a capital gains tax are also of interest to state Democrats.

Schoesler said state Republicans will push to block any state income tax, saying it would hurt the tech industry, small business and job creation in rural areas and small cities across the state.

Republicans will likely work against any sort of energy taxes, like a carbon tax proposed by Gov. Jay Inslee.

In the 2017 Legislative session, Republicans refused to pass a capital budget unless there was action taken on ruling by the state Supreme Court known as the Hirst Decision.

The Hirst Decision essentially stated that issuing permits for new wells should be handled by individual counties instead of the state Department of Ecology, with the idea it would allow for better monitoring of water resources and respect senior water rights.

However, Republicans argue that this imposes an unreasonable burden on many rural counties in the state who don’t have the resources to pay for assessments and issue individual permits for new wells.

Shoesler said in the statement that rural development in some areas not served by municipal water systems have stopped, banks have stopped lending money and land values are falling for property owners.

“Yet urban lawmakers resist an adequate fix, because of pressure from green groups — and because the problem doesn’t affect them,” Schoesler said in the statement.

Republicans hope to repeal the decision in the Legislature.

While state Republicans cannot block the budget from passing this year if a vote falls along partisan lines, they can prevent bonds that fund the projects in the capital budget from passing, as bonds require a 60 percent vote to be issued.

Revising the way Sound Transit 3 (ST3) raises funds through car tabs will be another issue Republicans will take up this session.

When ST3 was approved in 2016, it included an increase in car tab taxes.

Many car owners were shocked to see the increase in their car tabs directly corresponded to the new price of their cars.

Republicans hope to implement a new metric, which takes value depreciation into effect.

ST3 is a massive infrastructure project in Puget Sound that seeks to build out light rail to Eastside communities, down to Tacoma and north of Seattle, along with increasing bus services.

Republicans will attempt to defend their fix to the McCleary Decision, which mandates that the state adequately fund basic education.

A fix last session relies on property taxes, which increased the cost to affluent areas of the state such as Puget Sound to help offset expenses in more rural areas.

Democrats have vowed to undo this and find other ways to fund the decision, possibly through an income or capital gains tax.

While Democrats control the Legislature, their advantage is razor-thin and it is unclear whether all Democrats will vote in a bloc to pass sweeping agenda changes, or if some will defect and vote with Republicans.

The 2018 session is scheduled to be shorter than 2017, with only 60 days currently scheduled.

However, last session went into three special sessions, leading to the longest in state history.

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