Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Their big rush messed up the soda-pop tax

When you pass the final budget of many pages in a big rush violating your own rules - no time for it - you sometimes get something wrong. The soda-pop tax. Don't you just feel sorry for our legislature? They work so hard for so long that they just can't take time and energy for hearings on the details of the budget. They can't even let it be on the shelf long enough for all their members - or the public! - to read it. They went to extraordinary lengths this session to avoid even the normal daylight in the process. They held hearings with a few hours notice when the text of the bill was not available, violating Senate Rule 45. They scheduled hearings when the bill text was not available before the hearing began. They held the hearing for a bill that hadn't been introduced. SB 6835 was passed with only a title, no text, by the Senate Ways and Means Committee on February 9. Jason Mercier at WPC (pdf) This link details several of these actions. And they passed an amendment to a nonexistent law. EFF WA Heroic, eh? But this is inside politics, they say. No one will notice. What could possibly go wrong? They messed up one - so far - of their beloved tax increases. The soda pop tax proposal brought cries of pain from the in-state industry. So they were exempted. Supposed to be. But our Democrat leadership - aren't they smarter than us? - didn't know enough about the industry to properly exempt our industry and the final budget does not. Just one hearing would have disclosed the problem. After the budget was passed, but before it was signed, the error was discovered. Even House leader Frank Chopp asked Christine Gregoire to line-item veto this tax. Gregoire signed the budget Friday without vetoing the pop tax. After all, it would cut $38.1 million in revenue and another $35.3 million if it also affects bottled water. Washington State Wire.com has the details:
Bottlers rushed to the Capitol the moment they sensed danger. They staged a rally on the Capitol steps the final Saturday of the session, and the hundreds of blue-shirted Pepsi employees and red-shirted Coca-Cola workers for once outnumbered the green and the purple shirts of the state employees. ... House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam, came out to the Capitol steps and told the crowd that lawmakers thought their jobs were important. She said they’d found a way to help the mom-and-pop bottling operations around the state. Just two hours before, House and Senate negotiators had released the final version of their tax bill for public inspection, and it contained an exemption written especially for them. Every bottler would be exempted from tax on the first $10 million in sales. The House passed the bill a few hours later. All’s well that ends well, right? Just one problem. Most of the small bottlers don’t actually do any bottling. No one in the Legislature knew.
So the tax hits the local industry. This is just one cost of our Legislature intentionally removing their process's transparency. What other costs? The trust of the public...

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