Eye On Olympia

Chopp, on tax refund checks: good idea, but maybe a smaller check…

A former community organizer, House Speaker Frank Chopp is joining Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, in backing the idea of a small state match for families that claim the federal earned income tax credit.

"I think this is a high priority, if we can fit it in," Chopp, D-Seattle, told reporters recently, adding that the possibility of an economic slowdown gives the idea more impetus.

The plan, as proposed, would give a 10 percent state match -- about $170, on average -- to the 350,000 Washington tax filers who claim the federal credit each year.

"I think it's a very good step forward", given the state's regressive tax system, Chopp said. And although some Republicans have questioned the constitutionality of the proposal, Chopp says it meets the constitutional conditions that special tax relief can be granted to "the poor and infirm."

"Well, that's who we're trying to help," he said.

Still, there's a price tag attached, and Gov. Chris Gregoire has repeatedly told lawmakers that she wants only modest increases in this off-year supplemental budget. (Washington budgets two years at a time, writing the main state budget on odd-numbered years.)

With a 10 percent match costing the state an estimated $60 million a year, Chopp said lawmakers are discussing a 5 percent match instead.

"At 5 percent, it's obviously a lot less expensive," he said. "Maybe that's what we can afford."

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