The Senate voted on, and passed, 500 measures the other day, and the House of Representatives passed a similar number. Now, the hearings and amendment process begin anew for each measure that passed across to the opposite chamber. First Crossover has arrived.
The vast majority of bills are not controversial, provide an obvious benefit, appropriate funds for a worthy cause, or make minor updates to existing laws. There are plenty of proposals, however, that warrant careful observation or opposition because they can have major impacts on our cost of living or quality of life.
Every year, we consider proposals to create new tax schemes and expand existing taxes. We work on legislation designed to punish some unwelcome behavior or micro-manage an entire industry. We look at new programs to solve an endless number of societal ills, but we often forget about funding existing priorities. The pressure is always on to raise tax revenues and expand government spending.
Many people are surprised to learn that most measures pass by unanimous consent, meaning 25 “Yes” votes and zero “No” votes. In fact, “No” votes are rarely cast by most legislators. Of the hundreds of bills recently passed, nine Senators voted Yes for every single bill. I am not one them.
Last year, the Legislature approved a ballot question that could have created a brand-new property tax authority for the state, on top of the county property tax. I was the only legislator to oppose that measure (74-1), which was later struck down by the Supreme Court and then voted down by a huge majority in November.
Now, SB 1474 would increase the General Excise Tax rate by 0.5%, presumably to increase funds for education. As I argued last year, increasing the amount of money collected by the state does not guarantee increased funding for anything. We do know, however, that this added tax would increase the cost of living for every resident. With so many people barely making ends meet, I cannot support this additional tax burden. Senators Thielen and Inouye also voted No (21-3).
Three bills that I think go too far in telling people how to live are SB 1009, a ban on flavored tobacco products (menthol cigarettes) (23-1), SB 269, which allows condo associations to ban smoking inside a person’s home (23-1), and SB 549, which creates a new law to stipulate what is an appropriate beverage in children’s meals (23-1). Cigarettes are horrible, and parents should be careful with their children’s diets, but do we really need to micro-manage, by law, everything we disapprove?
There is a difference between living wage and minimum wage. The former is the cost to provide for oneself and one’s family. The latter is the entry level wage for low skilled jobs. I voted against SB 789 (23-1), which would raise the minimum wage from $10.10 to $15 in three years. This is too much, too fast. I am, however, open to a more modest increase.