Washington State May Give Seattle More Taxing Power

The Washington state capitol building.

The Washington state capitol building. Shutterstock


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STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Virginia appeals abortion restrictions … Trump administration unveils Medicaid “block grant” plan … California bill would require truthful advertisement of rehab centers.

A measure introduced in the Washington state legislature would give counties with populations over two million residents the ability to impose a new tax on businesses. Only one county in the state, King County, which contains Seattle, would be eligible. The bill would allow the county to impose a 0.1% or 0.2% tax on the total payroll of employees who earn more than 150,000 per year. Businesses with 50 employees or less are exempt, as are those where no one makes more than $150,000. Grocery stores, motor vehicle fuel businesses, and government entities are also exempt. State Rep. Nicole Macri, a Democrat who is sponsoring the bill, said the $121 million that the county could raise through such a tax would have to be spent on homelessness services, affordable housing, public safety and mental health services. “The thing I am interested in is something that will allow for more of a regional approach on addressing homelessness, housing and behavioral health needs than what the current authority allows,” she said. The bill would not require the county to implement the tax, but is similar to a measure that Seattle passed and then repealed last year that would have implemented a head tax on large businesses. That bill was vehemently opposed by Amazon, which would have been a primary target of the tax. King County Council vice chair Reagan Dunn criticized the bill as duplicative of that failed head tax. “This renewed effort to tax jobs is a political zombie stumbling back from the graveyard of bad ideas. This proposal is just Seattle’s failed head tax with a new coat of paint, the only difference is the original disincentivized job creation in Seattle and this version disincentivizes higher wages for the entire county,” he said. Expedia Group, a large company based in Seattle that would be affected by such a tax, seemed more agreeable to the idea.  “Our roots are firmly planted in the Greater Seattle area and we are proud to contribute toward the revenue needed to address these issues in the form of a new tax that can make a meaningful impact, creates accountability to drive progress, and quickly gets the needed funding in the hands of our local policy makers in and beyond Seattle as swiftly and responsibly as possible,” said Expedia chief legal officer Bob Dzielak. [Crosscut; KUOW]

MEDICAID BLOCK GRANTS | The Trump administration on Thursday announced a new plan that would let states apply to shift some of their Medicaid recipients—only adults younger than 65 who aren’t disabled—into a “block grant” program. Seema Verma, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said this would give states more flexibility in how they spend federal dollars. But Democrats and many health care providers are critical of this kind of arrangement between states and CMS, saying it will lead to rationing of needed care because states with block grants would have spending caps. This is a big reduction of the safety net, they argue. Tennessee has already asked CMS to allow them to switch to a block grant, although that proposal was broader than the Trump administration’s. Verma said the Tennessee request is still being considered. “Tennessee’s application, we continue to look at, but I would say that is separate from this opportunity, because this focuses on non-disabled adults and the Tennessee application was a little wider than that,” she said. [New York Times; Vox; Tennessean

ABORTION | The Virginia House and Senate have each approved legislation that would undo some restrictions put in place when Republicans had control of the legislature. The bills repeal the 24-hour waiting period before abortions and a requirement for women to undergo an ultrasound and counseling before an abortion, as well as removing the provision that abortion clinics meet the same strict building code standards as hospitals. All Democrats but one voted for passage of the bill in the Senate. Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, celebrated the legislature’s votes. “These laws have been about shaming women, stigmatizing abortion, shutting off access, discouraging doctors from providing this care. And we say, we’ve had enough, the voters in Virginia have had enough, and now we’re going to act on it,” she said. Republicans, including Sen. Jen Kiggans, said that the restrictions were meant to protect the unborn. “We’re fighting for people who can’t speak for themselves,” she said. House Majority Leader Charniele Herring, the first woman and the first person of color to hold that position in Virginia, said that women lawmakers were critical to passage of the bills. “Having more women here has allowed us to make sure that policy is evidence-based,” she said. The House and the Senate now have to pass each other’s versions of the bills. [Vox; Associated Press]

REHAB | A bill in California would forbid false or misleading advertising for addiction and mental health rehab centers. The legislation would allow the California Department of Health Care Services to investigate potential misconduct and fine businesses up to $2,000, as well as suspend or revoke their licenses. California passed the bill last year, but it was vetoed by the governor because it included sober living homes in its regulations, but those facilities aren’t licensed or regulated by the state. The new version does not mention sober living homes. Florida passed a similar law two years ago. [OC Register]

HONORARY MAYOR | The town of Fair Haven, Vermont is holding an election for its pet mayor, pitting a goat named Lincoln against a dog named Sammy. The goat is the incumbent. Town Manager Joe Gunter said the purpose of the race is to get children active in civic affairs. “In Fair Haven, just like everywhere else, voter participation is not always as high as we want it,” he said. Once elected, the pet mayor is required to march in parades and occasionally meet with the Board of Selectmen “just to keep an eye on them.” [Associated Press]

Managing Editor Laura Maggi contributed to this story.

Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.

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