Report on 41st LD Town Hall, Feb 17, 2018

On Saturday, Feb 17 over 100 people turned up to the 41st Legislative District town hall at Somerset Elementary School in Bellevue.

Audience at 41st LD Town Hall, Feb 17, 2018

Representative Judy Clibborn (House Transportation Committee chair), Senator Lisa Wellman (chair of the Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee), and Representative Tana Senn (Vice Chair of the Early Learning & Human Services Committee) answered questions for two hours.

Rep. Judy Clibborn, Sen. Lisa Wellman, Rep. Tana Senn at 41st LD Town Hall, Feb 17, 2018

I asked Rep. Senn about the prospects for a carbon tax and for a capital gains tax. She said that it is likely that no Republican will vote for either bill. Because the Democratic majorities are so slim (a couple of seats in each house), and because there are some wish-washy (conservative) Democrats, it will be hard to pass either bill.

Last year’s state legislative deal funds education via increased real estate taxes.  (The legislature was placed under contempt by the Washington State Supreme Court for failing to adequately fund education, which the state constitution says is the “paramount duty” of the state.) Because of the high real estate values in King County, residents here are subsidizing education in other parts of the state. Most voters and legislators are Democratic here in King County and are Republican elsewhere. So the Republicans are happy to burden King County with the costs of paying for education.

All three 41st LD legislators voted against last year’s education deal, as did legislators in most surrounding King County legislative districts.

HB 2967 would enact an excise tax on capital gains in exchange for a reduction in property taxes. “Assisting Washington families by improving the fairness of the state’s tax system by enacting a capital gains tax and providing property tax relief.”  It is scheduled for consideration by the Finance Committee tomorrow, Feb 19. It has exemptions for primary residences and exempts the first $25,000 in gains ($50,000 for a couple).  The tax would apply to only about 48,000 households in the state.

One legislator said that some Republicans were pleasantly surprised that the Democratic leadership is relatively polite towards Republicans, allowing their issues to come up for consideration. One Republican legislator thanked her. So I wondered if a carbon tax or a capital gains tax could pass by some sort of horse trading. Apparently it will be difficult.

As for a carbon tax, Gov. Inslee proposed a carbon tax bill, SB 6203, “Reducing carbon pollution by moving to a clean energy economy.” A watered down version of the bill passed out of a Senate committee last week. (Lisa Wellman is one of the sponsors.) See CarbonWA for information about the various bills, their prospects, and the politics of the issue.

Senator Wellman pointed out that adding a tax on carbon will cost jobs in some industries. She mentioned, too, 10,000 jobs lost at Longview coal terminal. The workers need green energy alternatives. Such issues make passing a carbon tax politically difficult.

Fight for Climate

Wellman said that public banking is a “wave” across the nation. (New Jersey is seriously considering a public bank). In Washington State, Sen. Bob Hasegawa, Senator Wellman, and Senator Patty Kuderer have worked for a public bank bill. See SB 5464.  As Wellman explained, Washington should stop giving money away to Wall Street.

Someone asked about the prospects for stopping the rich from buying elections. We need to counter Citizens United, they said. One of the legislators spoke of the DIsclose Act, SB 5991/HB: “Increasing transparency of contributions by creating the Washington state DISCLOSE act of 2018.” It passed the Senate and is in the House.

Closes campaign finance disclosure loopholes and requires the disclosure of contributions and expenditures by nonprofit organizations that participate significantly in
state elections.

Access to Democracy

One questioner spoke of the substandard conditions at most assisted-living facilities, which are often under-staffed.  The owners and lobbyists blame the $15 minimum wage.   One of the legislators said: Why work in such a facility when you can work under better conditions and for equal pay at, say, Starbucks?

A woman from Grandmothers Against Gun violence asked a question about prospects for gun control. Despite the horrifying massacre in a Florida high school, several bills failed to survive “policy cutoff.”  In particular, a bill about enhanced background checks failed.

One bill about restricting the ability of perpetrators of domestic violence to carry concealed weapons is still alive.  (Seems like a no-brainer to me.)  Another bill,  SB 5992, to restrict “bump fire stock guns”) passed the Senate and moving to the House.

Prohibits a person from manufacturing, owning, buying,
selling, loaning, furnishing, transporting, or having in
possession or under control, a bump-fire stock.
Provides the following definition for bump-fire stock: A
butt stock designed to be attached to a semiautomatic firearm
with the effect of increasing the rate of fire achievable
with the semiautomatic firearm to that of a fully automatic
firearm by using the energy from the recoil of the firearm to
generate reciprocating action that facilitates repeated
activation of the trigger.
Also seems like a no-brainer to me.

The legislators expressed frustration on the issue of guns (especially Rep Senn).  They said their inboxes have been flooded with emails on the issue.

There is more bipartisan support for reproductive rights, especially for reproductive parity, SB 6105. “Enacting the reproductive health access for all act.”

Requires the state health care authority to administer a
program to reimburse the cost of medically appropriate
services, drugs, devices, products, and procedures for
individuals who can become pregnant and who would be eligible
for medical assistance if not for 8 U.S.C. Sec. 1611 or 1612.

The aim of the bill is to prohibit insurers and employers from refusing to pay for employees’ reproductive-related medical expenses. (Think Hobby Lobby.)

The biggest drama at the town hall was the vehement questions by Asian Americans directed toward Sen. Wellman, asking her why she cosponsored SB 6406, “Restoring the fair treatment of underserved groups in public employment, education, and contracting.”

The aim of SB 6406 is to overturn I-200, a citizen initiative which Washington State voters approved in 1998. I-200 states, “The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.” The proviso against discrimination is uncontroversial. The proviso prohibiting preferential treatment effectively outlawed affirmative action in education, as well as programs to give preference to minority-owned and woman-owned businesses for public contracts. “All state agencies, boards, departments and commissions are prohibited from using any equal opportunity programs that grant preferential treatment in hiring. Initial consideration of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin may continue through outreach efforts. No comparable aggressive action to end equal opportunity programs that grant preferential treatment [sic?].”

I-200 was promoted by California affirmative-action opponent Ward Connerly and filed by Scott Smith and “initiative king” Tim Eyman.

The initiative passed with 58.22% of the vote statewide, but lost in King County.

Here’s a photo of some of the Asian Americans holding signs in opposition to SB 6406.

Asian Americans Opposed to SB 6406

Senator Wellman said that SB 6406 was “dead” for this session. One of the Asian Americans strongly demanded that she not cosponsor a similar bill next year. Wellman said she would take their views into consideration but would not succumb to threats. (She said something about it being illegal.)

Wellman also explained that the intent and effect of racial preferences and affirmative action is to help minorities such as Asians to get contracts. Before I-200, 13% of state government contracts were awarded to minority-owned businesses; afterwards, only about 1% were. (I’m not sure what exactly she was referring to.)

Wellman also described her experience as a Vice-President at Apple Computer, where she had to deal with discrimination against women. Too few women are in senior positions in many corporations. Likewise, there are too few women in high tech (software). When I used to interview candidates for software jobs, we’d regularly give preference to women and minorities, I think, partly because so few women and minorities applied.

None of the speakers explained clearly why they oppose overturning I-200, but my understanding is that many Asian Americans are angry that their children have trouble getting into colleges because preference is given to minorities such as African Americans. Harvard University has been sued for apparently restricting Asian enrollment. “The lawsuit alleges that Harvard effectively employs quotas on the number of Asians admitted and holds them to a higher standard than whites.”

Defenders of affirmative action and of racial preferences say that diversity is desirable in education and government contracting. Also, it is desirable to correct past wrongs (slavery and discrimination). Furthermore, if a student in a poor black community is able to earn good grades and test scores, despite the many roadblocks to success in such communities, it is evidence of intelligence and a strong character. Raw grades and scores are not the only factors that admissions officers should consider.

When I sketched this argument to one of the Asian American men opposing SB 6406, he said it’s unjust to correct past wrongs by enacting new wrongs. He also said that while it is appropriate to consider other factors besides grades and test scores, skin color should not be one of those factors.

After having gotten a chance to ask a question, one of the Asian Americans repeatedly raised his hand and called out verbally to be allowed to speak again. The legislators said that they wanted to give other people a chance to ask questions first. The man was politely asked, by a legislative aide, to sit down.

Senator Wellman said she would not debate the issue but would be happy to discuss it afterwards. They did.

I can see both sides of this issue. If my kid got better grades and scores but lost out to someone with lower grades and scores I’d be unhappy too. It does seem like discrimination. Yet I understand too the desirable of diversity and of correcting past wrongs.

In late 2016 I met a Chinese American woman who said she voted for Trump. When I asked why she offered two reasons: (1) the efforts to allow transgender people to use women’s rest rooms, and (2) affirmative action in education. When I told this story to one of the Asian Americans at the town hall, he said that I shouldn’t lead by relating the issue to Trump. And he denied that college admission was the only (or main) issue involved.

After the town hall, a well-spoken African American woman spoke with the Asian Americans, telling how racial preferences helped her get established in her career. (She became some sort of executive.)

African-American lady tells how minority preferences helped her

A  reporter and photographer from the Seattle Times were in attendance. Both were friendly and easy-going. The reporter was having trouble getting cell phone reception (apparently, he had to step outside the gym). He said that he’s the only reporter on duty this weekend, and he needed to keep in touch with the editor in case there was an important story to cover.  I was somewhat surprised that the Seattle Times chose the 41st LD to cover.  I would have thought that, say, the 45th LD would be more exciting, given Manka Dhingra’s dramatic win there in the election last year.   The reporter said he generally worked on city hall and wasn’t so familiar with legislative issues.     I discussed with the reporters the trouble that newspapers are having staying in business and suggested that more people would subscribe if the editorial board stopped endorsing candidates. They insisted that the newsroom really is distinct (and cut off from) the editorial team.  We do desperately need journalism.

Here is the Seattle Times’ write-up on the town hall.

Gun editorial from the Sydney Morning Herald

An editorial from the Sydney Morning Herald:
“It is incomprehensible to us, as Australians, that a country so proud and great can allow itself to be savaged again and again by its own citizens. We cannot understand how the long years of senseless murder, the Sandy Hooks and Orlandos and Columbines, have not proved to Americans that the gun is not a precious symbol of freedom, but a deadly cancer on their society.
We point over and over to our own success with gun control in the wake of the Port Arthur massacre, that Australia has not seen a mass shooting since and that we are still a free and open society. We have not bought our security at the price of liberty; we have instead consented to a social contract that states lives are precious, and not to be casually ended by lone madmen. But it is a message that means nothing to those whose ideology is impervious to evidence.”
• Demand background checks
• Demand a ban on assault weapons
• Demand a ban on all modifications to convert weapons to semi or fully automatic
• Demand accountability by the Senators and Representatives on the NRA payroll.”

See also “Fuck you, I like guns”

What’s Missing from What You’re Hearing About Washington’s Budget

Last June, Gov. Jay Inslee made headlines when he signed a state budget totaling $43.4 billion in spending for 2017-19. Which of the following statements about that budget is true?

A. State spending will grow 15.3% by 2019.
B. State spending will grow 6.1% by 2019.
C. State spending will grow 3.2% by 2019.
D. State spending will grow 0.27% by 2019.

If you chose any answer, congratulations: you’re right (technically)! Let me tell you why – and what you can do with the often-contradictory things you hear about the state budget.

A. “State spending will grow 15.3% by 2019”

Washington’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 budget was $19.6 billion, and the FY 2019 budget is $22.6 billion, which is a 15.3% increase.[1] A “double-digit increase” isn’t only helpful for writing catchy headlines – it’s also useful rhetorical bait for conservative and anti-tax (well, anti-tax for the wealthy) activists. But this easy-to-understand calculation is also a pretty misleading one, as we’ll see below.

B. “State spending will grow 6.1% by 2019”

This figure takes inflation into account. Like every market, the amount the state pays for workers and goods changes from year-to-year – usually upward. So unless we account for inflation, simply comparing one budget year to another isn’t “apples-to-apples”.

Here’s an illustration of the difference – in the graph below, the “nominal” line shows spending in current dollars, while the “real” line show the equivalent amounts in 2017 dollars: [2]

Adjusted for inflation, FY 2019 spending ($20.8 billion) will be 6.1% higher than FY 2017 ($19.6 billion) – less than half the increase shown in answer A). But some important information is still missing.

C. “State spending will grow 3.2% by 2019”

Since Washington is a growing state – with just over 6 million people residing here in 2002, and more than 7.6 million projected in 2019 – our budget and spending comparisons also need to account for the fact that the cost of public structures and services goes up as population increases.[3]

To account for population change, we can use the same nominal and real numbers from above and divide by the state’s population for the corresponding year to get spending per capita:

So: adjusted for both population and inflation, the state spent $2,643 per capita in 2017, and will spend $2,728 in 2019 – an increase of just 3.2% ($85/person). You won’t see that figure in many headlines, let alone hear it in talking points from conservative legislators and activists advocating for budget cuts.

This particular chart also highlights why it’s important to know how a reference year fits into the bigger picture. Even using these population- and inflation-adjusted numbers, you could truthfully say that in 2019, Washington is a) budgeted to spend 12.6% less ($395/resident) than it did 17 years ago; or b) spend 14.9% more ($355/resident) than it did 5 years ago.

It all depends on the story you want to tell.

D. “State spending will grow 0.27% by 2019”

Political rhetoric commonly cites spending as evidence government is “too big” – but what exactly is the ruler used to make this judgement? Compared to Washington’s economy (Gross Domestic Product), state spending is well below what it was 10 years ago, and will rise just one-quarter of 1% (0.27%) from 2017 to 2019 [4]:

It’s the same story when you measure by state total personal income – state spending is at historically low levels, and is projected to rise a mere 0.16% from 2017 to 2019 [5]:

Why It Matters and What You Can Do

The old adage that “statistics can be made to prove anything – even the truth” seems applicable here, if a touch too cynical for my taste. And media coverage of Washington’s budget too often revolves around political wrangling, last-minute deal making, or short-term analysis, which doesn’t help.

The case I’m making is not to ignore the numbers or the news, but to remember: without the context of inflation, population, and historical perspective, budget numbers don’t tell us nearly enough about what our government is doing.

So the first thing you should do when you encounter news or opinions on the state (or any other government) budget – whether from a legislator, media outlet, or other source – yes, I’m looking at you, sketchy Facebook meme! – is pause to find out:

  • Are the numbers adjusted for inflation?
  • Does it account for population (or change in enrollment, number of people served, etc.)?
  • What’s the time period of reference for a particular percentage/dollar change? What happens if you use a different year for comparison?
  • Who came up with the source data, and is it public so I can I see it for myself?

If your source can’t or won’t give you those answers, they haven’t done their homework (or they don’t want to tell you the results), and you really can’t rely on them to provide a useful perspective.

Second, remember that Washington’s budget is really a list of public values. For example:

  • In our current society and economy, every child needs a lot more education than they did 50 or even 30 years ago – starting before they’re 5 and continuing after they’re 18. So we fund pre-K, K-12 and higher education.
  • A healthy community and environment are essential not just for our health, but for our quality of life and economic development – so we fund the Department of Ecology, Department of Health, and similar agencies.
  • We consider beautiful natural spaces a birthright for current and future generations to enjoy – so we fund State Parks and the Department of Natural Resources.

When you read or hear someone opine that “the budget” for something is too big or too small – or that some unit of government is spending too much or too little on something – they’re actually telling you something else: that it’s a lower (or higher) priority than it ought to be.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with that – just don’t get bogged down in their numbers (unless they haven’t given any, which ought to be a red flag!). Instead, think about the needs and priorities of the wide variety of families, neighborhoods, and communities in (as the case may be) your city, state or nation.

Then ask that person to explain exactly how their proposal will affect the structures and services necessary to deliver on the public values you care about. See what they have to say for themselves. You’ll learn more from that conversation than any graph or spreadsheet can tell you.


[1] Nominal budget data provided by fiscal.wa.gov, Historical Spending (annual), “Near General Fund – State” (NGFS). NGFS includes the General Fund, Education Legacy Trust Account, Pension Funding Stabilization Account, and Opportunity Pathways Account. The largest of these is the state general fund, which is the fund in which most general revenues are deposited; the other funds have more specific purposes. Washington receives additional federal funding (not shown here) that is reserved for specific services, such as Food Stamps, Medicaid, and children’s health. The state legislature also adopts separate budgets for transportation (using the gas tax and other dedicated revenue) and capital projects.

[2] Real (inflation-adjusted) numbers calculated by the author using the Implicit Price Deflator (IPD) provided by the Bureau of Economic Analysis and economic estimates from the Washington State Economic and Revenue Forecast Council. The IPD is a measure of inflation, similar to the Consumer Price Index – however, the IPD includes a measure of inflation specifically for state and local governments, which is used here.

[3] Yes, I hear you there in the back, and I get that not every person uses everything our state has to offer, and different public structures/services cost different amounts. Here’s the thing: in general, everybody benefits, directly or indirectly, when our state government delivers on widely shared/supported public values. Think of it like going to a buffet dinner. Everyone pays at the door, and everyone has access to the entire buffet (in this case, our state’s public structures/services). Maybe you may only eat salad and jello, while others enjoy turkey and potatoes.

[4] State Gross Domestic Product data through 2017 via U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, “Annual Gross Domestic Product by State”; 2018-2019 are author’s estimates, based on 3-year rolling average of prior years.

[5] Per Capita Income data through 2017 via U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, “Annual State Personal Income and Employment”; 2017 data based on Q1-Q3 average of same year, 2018-2019 data are author’s estimates based on WA Economic and Revenue Forecast Council reports.

Originally published at Economic Opportunity Institute

Scary Koch brothers to spend $400 million on midterms and $20 million to defend GOP tax bill

Koch network to spend $400 million during 2018 midterm election cycle

Koch network to spend $20M selling GOP tax overhaul ahead of midterm elections

Likewise, Sinclair deal spooks liberals ahead of 2020 presidential race and Sinclair Deal Threatens to Put Right-Wing Slant on Election News.

These developments, combined with the existing reach of conservative media outlets such as Fox News, the bubble effect of the Republican tax bill, and the willingness of some corporations to throw peanuts to the plebes in exchange for their huge tax breaks, may allow the GOP to eke out another election victory in November.

Choose your battles wisely

I saw a facebook post that was encouraging overturning of I-200 (the voter-approved initiative which prohibits affirmative action and similar racial preferences). I support over-turning I-200 but that’s not my highest priority. My highest priorities are economic inequality and environmental justice.

As I commented on the post, many people think the bill is of mixed benefit, all things considered. Specifically, overturning I-200 risks alienating some voters who progressives need on other issues. I know a Chinese lady who voted for Trump because, she said, her son was at a disadvantage getting into an Ivy League school because of affirmative action. I don’t think she is a racist.

Do we fight about identity politics? Or do we fight about economic and environmental justice? Or both?

Our resources and political capital are limited. So, yes, I support overturning I-200. Given a choice between spending political capital on that bill and spending it on other issues, what’s the best choice?

We have legalized marijuana and gay marriage — which are good to have. But Washington State have the most regressive tax system in the nation, and I want our legislators to tackle that issue, which is a foundation for so much more that we want: education, public transit, an adequate social safety net, housing, environmental stewardship, and guaranteed health care for all.

Extreme wealth inequality

The Billionaire Bonanza: 5 Things You Need To Know About The Inequality Gap

There are now 2,043 dollar billionaires worldwide. Nine out of 10 of them are men.

In 12 months, the wealth of this elite group of 2,043 has increased by $762 billion — enough to end extreme poverty seven times over.

In the period between 2006 and 2015, ordinary workers saw their incomes rise by an average of just 2 percent a year, while billionaire wealth rose by nearly 13 percent.

Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and Warren Buffett, the three richest people in the U.S., own the same wealth ($248.5 billion) as the bottom half of the U.S. population.

I’m pro-life: in favor of Medicare for all, a healthy environment, and gun control

I’m pro-life for adults and for later-term fetuses, but I’m pro-choice for early-term fetuses.  However, it seems that many conservative Americans are pro-life only for fetuses but not so much for children and adults.

Real pro-life includes everyone, not just fetuses. So, I’m in favor of government-guaranteed medical care for everyone.  And I’m in favor of stringent environmental regulations.

Here are some links about how harmful auto and truck traffic are to human health.

Many daycare centers and schools are dangerously close to busy roads.
http://www.invw.org/series/exhausted-at-school/

Living near highways bad for lungs
http://www.lung.org/our-initiatives/healthy-air/outdoor/air-pollution/highways.html

Living close to a major roadway could increase dementia, study says
http://www.cnn.com/2017/01/04/health/dementia-risk-living-near-major-road/index.html

Roads are harmful to pregnant women
http://envhealthcenters.usc.edu/infographics/infographic-living-near-busy-roads-or-traffic-pollution/references-living-near-busy-roads-or-traffic-pollution

Road pollution associated with increased breast cancer
https://nypost.com/2017/04/06/the-roads-you-live-near-affect-the-health-of-your-boobs/

Road pollution bad for heart health
https://news.heart.org/living-near-busy-roads-may-bad-heart-patients-health/

Then there are the indisputable negative effects of carbon pollution on the climate change.