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Major donor for WA Republicans backs initiatives to repeal tax, climate policies

A blue sign with gas prices looms, with a gallon of gas priced at 5 dollars and fifteen cents.
Juan Pablo Chiquiza
KUOW Public Radio
Gas price board at a gas station in Seattle's University District on July 19, 2023. Washington's average price for a gallon of gas reached the highest in the country for several weeks in July.

A major donor for Republicans in Washington is funding an effort to get rid of the state's new carbon emissions cap program as concerns about high gas prices persist.

The political action committee Let's Go Washington is behind six initiatives to change or repeal a handful of the state's new laws and programs, including repealing Washington's new cap and trade program.

Other initiatives backed by the PAC would repeal the state’s newly implemented capital gains tax, scale back some of the parameters around police car chases, and make the new long-term care payroll tax optional. The PAC is also working on an initiative to prohibit income taxes in the state and another to create a new law requiring that schools grant parents more oversight of classroom instruction and student services.

Brian Heywood, CEO of an Asian investment firm based in Kirkland, is the group's financial sponsor.

"These are issues that people should look at with open eyes, regardless of political persuasion," Heywood said. "It's not a bad thing to send a strong message to the Legislature that 'hey we'd like a more common sense approach from you guys.'"

This year's suite of initiatives isn't Heywood's first foray into Washington politics or the initiative petition process. He's donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Republican organizations and candidates in recent years. Last year, he supported signature gathering for 11 different initiatives, but none received enough support before the state's deadline.

But Heywood's efforts are more focused this time around; Let's Go Washington is working to collect signatures on just six initiatives, and advertising paid positions for people to work as signature gatherers. The PAC has hired just under 100 people so far, he says.

According to data from the Public Disclosure Commission, Heywood has contributed roughly $200,000 to Let's Go Washington this year.

The list of initiatives echo many talking points from Republicans pushing back on policies approved by the state's Democratic majority in recent years.

Republican legislative leaders announced plans to file bills in Olympia next year to make the WA Cares tax optional shortly after the new payroll tax went into effect in July. Rep. Jim Walsh (R-Aberdeen) also issued a statement in late July urging for a special legislative session to roll back the state's cap and trade program as Washington's gas prices climbed to the highest in the nation. Walsh filed the official paperwork for the initiatives Let's Go Washington is supporting.

Each initiative petition needs to receive at least 324,516 signatures from registered Washington voters to move forward.

If the initiatives receive enough signatures before the Dec. 29 deadline, they will be delivered to lawmakers in Olympia for their consideration during the next legislative session. But if the Democratic-controlled legislature refuses to adopt an initiative, voters across the state will decide the issue on their Nov. 2024 ballots.

Jeanie Lindsay is a radio reporter based in Olympia who covers the Washington state government beat for the Northwest News Network, the Pacific Northwest's regional collaboration of NPR stations.