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For all the talk about bold proposals in Olympia this year, legislators didn’t pass any new general taxes or initiate big programs. Democrats have been happy to chalk that up to Republican control of the state Senate (and certainly that’s a big factor), but on many of the most controversial bills, it was never clear the 51 House Democrats could muster 50 votes for passage.

The House, run by Speaker Frank Chopp, proposed a budget with $1.5 billion in new taxes, but never actually voted to pass those new taxes. Under their proposal, the $1.5 billion was supposed to come from a tax on capital gains income and by making permanent a temporary B&O surcharge that expired in 2013.

House Democrats didn’t vote on either of those ideas. Nor did they take up Gov. Jay Inslee’s cap-and-trade proposal.

Strange messaging
Oddly enough, Democrats seemed quick to embrace the message that they were just trying to avoid exposing members to an unpopular vote, since Senate Republicans were unlikely to approve these taxes anyway. It’s odd because most of the time, politicians try to avoid looking like they’re engaging in feckless political maneuvering instead of standing on principle.

The message was no doubt preferable, though, to admitting House Democrats didn’t have the votes to pass the new taxes that their base supports.

It’s clear that with narrow partisan advantage, Speaker Chopp is operating in a very different environment from his post-2006 high water mark. If Republican Teri Hickel defeats appointed Rep. Carol Gregory in this fall’s 30th District special election, Chopp’s caucus will be down to a 50-48 advantage. He’d need an awful lot of caucus unity to pass anything on the liberal wishlist in 2016.

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