Clock ticking toward midnight deadline for state budget
NFIB/Washington State Director Patrick Connor reports from Olympia on the small-business agenda for the legislative week ending June 30
June 30 marks the end of the current 2015-2017 fiscal biennium. You’ve no doubt been bombarded with news reports and social media eruptions about a last-minute budget agreement that the Legislature is racing to pass, and the governor sign, before midnight to avert a state government shutdown. It’s no joke the ink may not be dry on the budget bill lawmakers are discussing today. In fact, Senate Ways & Means Committee deliberations were slowed as they waited for a truck to arrive from the printer with copies of the 600-plus-page bill.
The highlights so far, as they affect small business, indicate:
- a property tax shift
- a sales tax on bottled water and internet sales
- and elimination of the extracted fuels tax exemption for refineries.
These will be the primary sources of additional revenue.
Shockingly, the budget is said to include a B&O tax reduction for manufacturers, who will soon receive the same 40 percent discount as aerospace firms. While this should be good news for manufacturers in the (very) short-term, it also seems to pave the way for a future carbon tax on that very same industry – without the need for the B&O offsets included in last year’s ballot measure.
Paid Family and Medical Leave
A tremendous amount of thanks and a round of applause are due to NFIB’s own Kerry Cox, who braved a rather tense public hearing June 28 on a paid family and medical leave mandate. You can watch his excellent testimony here. A special thank you also goes out to our leadership council chairman and vice chairwoman, Steve Neighbors and Lois Cook, who both provided written testimony, which NFIB submitted to the state Senate Commerce, Labor & Sports Committee in advance of its hearing.
NFIB would provide a link to the proposed substitute bill, but the one listed for the June 28 hearing was not the bill that will receive a vote. Moreover, a new 85-page bill draft was circulated yesterday, June 29.
NFIB’s panel was called to testify first, to voice concerns with the bill, prior to the proponents taking the stand to extoll the virtues of this “less bad” deal. As you might expect, NFIB faced a number of questions from committee members, many dumbfounded that small business would oppose such an affordable new mandate with such high poll numbers among the public. NFIB’s testimony and questioning ran a little more than 20 minutes in total and can be viewed in full here.
NFIB’s testimony, and the Priority Vote alert we emailed legislators June 26, clearly vexed our business community colleagues who negotiated this bill behind closed doors. The Association of Washington Business’s labor lobbyist mentioned NFIB three times in his testimony and claimed that by inviting NFIB to several group meetings (and excluding us from many others) we were part of AWB’s “coalition” effort. In addition, a rebuttal was circulated June 29, which can be read here, and appears to follow yesterday’s latest bill draft. They cited nine of our objections, but only disagreed with three of them. We believe their rebuttal to be inaccurate:
- “Secondary employment” is not defined in the bill. A web search confirms that the term commonly means holding a second job, or “moonlighting.” The assertion that it somehow refers to employment by an ailing family member cared for by a worker on paid leave, not the worker on leave himself or herself, is specious at best.
- The new bill appears to have removed personal liability for employers. That is welcome news, and we should take credit since that language was removed after NFIB brought it to the Legislature’s attention. However, the bill still gives ESD authority to lien assets, seize and sell property, and pursue civil litigation to collect premiums [Sec. 56, 57, 59, 60, 61, 64, 65].
- Negotiators claim “voluntary plans” will be available for any employer regardless of size. We must take their word for this since the bill gives ESD sole discretion to approve a so-called voluntary plan [Sec. 14]. There is a “must approve” clause [Sec. 14(5)], provided the proposed plan meets nine criteria. Nonetheless, implementation will be subject to the department’s rulemaking and interpretation. Let’s hope all employers will, in fact, qualify, if this alternative is worthwhile once the regulations are promulgated.
Most disappointing about this “debate” has been the blatant mischaracterization of NFIB’s position.
- Despite its leadership council’s unanimous vote to oppose a paid family and medical leave mandate …
- a similarly unanimous recommendation that our political action committee withhold endorsement for legislators voting in favor of it …
- a clear Priority Vote alert sent to all members of the state House and Senate …
- additional communications to key members of caucus and committee leadership reinforcing these positions …
- and to ensure lawmakers are fully aware of NFIB’s position, they were provided an updated Priority Vote alert today (June 30)…
… others in the business community and their legislative allies claim our opposition is only marching orders from Washington, DC, and that our true position is somehow more “nuanced.” Make no mistake, we remain opposed.
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[Tile photo courtesy of the Washington State Legislative Support Services]