Rep. Jim Walsh

Rep. Jim Walsh

Rep. Walsh: use of ghost bills to pass tax hikes ‘unconscionable’

Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, isn’t happy with the way the Legislature passed four major tax increases in the waning hours of the 2019 session, with little transparency and little time to parse them.

“The way they passed their four tax increases in unconscionable,” he said Tuesday, when he stopped by The Daily World offices as part of his post-session media tour. “Ghost bills violate the spirit of the State Constitution.”

Ghost bills are pieces of legislation that have a title, but little or no text when they are initially introduced and then when the text gets filled in they’re rushed through without time for scrutiny.

For instance, bills to raise the Business and Occupation Tax on professional services, aimed at occupations such as doctors, real estate professionals, graphic designers and many others, and another to raise the Real Estate Excise tax, were presented to the Legislature by title only. Said Walsh, “We knew basically it was a bill to raise the B&O tax, but there was no bill to look at.”

There are rules in place to discourage the practice of ghost legislation, but there are ways around them, said Walsh. He intends to introduce his own legislation this fall to put an end to the practice.

Walsh said he views the last-minute late-night passage of tax increases as a sign that Democrats, the party in power in Olympia for most of the last few decades, senses that the party’s time is about up.

“I believe sooner or later their long winning streak is going to end,” said Walsh. He said the use of ghost legislation to push through the tax increases is the Democrats saying, “How much longer can we squeeze the lemon?” when it comes to tax hikes they know are unpopular with their constituents.

Craft distilleries

Walsh and many others believe craft liquor distilleries “could take off in this part of the state,” and he supported legislation that would have created some public disclosure exemptions for the industry.

“The State Liquor and Cannabis Board requires craft distillers to provide disclosures beyond profits and loss, like their contracts with suppliers and distributors,” said Walsh. “Out-of-state distillers could use public records to find out what suppliers they are using and from that reconstruct their recipes.”

That legislation died the last day of session. Walsh is confident it will gain traction and pass in the 2020 session, and is hopeful another piece of legislation designed to expand the retail abilities of craft distilleries will also get a fair shot.

The latter bill would have allowed for craft distillers to license two off-site tasting rooms, similar to what is allowed by state law for breweries and wineries. That bill suffered from attempts to attach an amendment to not allow minors on distillery property, a different rule than that faced by breweries and wineries and one seen by craft distillers as unfair. It was hung up in Senate Ways and Means for a long time, but when it finally made it to the Senate floor April 10 it had broad support, passing with 42 yes votes to 3 no votes. When it was passed back to the House, it died in committee.