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Eye On Olympia

WEDNESDAY, JULY 30, 2008, 2:16 P.M.

That’s the sound of lobbyists saddling up…

For years, lawmakers have been saying that someone should take a look at Washington's hundreds of tax breaks – some dating back to the Great Depression and further – and see if they're really still justified.

Well, someone is. The state's Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee recently recommended some changes.

Washington should torpedo the 1939 tax break for gasoline that evaporates during handling and delivery, the committee said, because modern vapor-recovery systems have sharply reduced such losses. Fuel suppliers and distributors would pay about $2.5 million more a year in taxes as a result.

And lawmakers should consider some threshold for a Depression-era farmers' exemption from state business tax. At the time, hundreds of farms were being abandoned in Washington, and the average per-capita farm income was $166 a year. Since then, the size and number of profit-turning farms has increased, with more than one-quarter of corporate farms reporting income of more than $100,000 a year. Today, the tax break adds up to about $30 million a year.

In its report, the committee said lawmakers should think about restoring the tax for some farms, saying the legislative record "is unclear on why farms, regardless of profit status, are to be tax exempt."

Also due for reconsideration, the committee said, is a 1930s tax break intended to help street cars and small private ferries. For most transportation, the state business tax rate is nearly 2 percent. The tax rate is about a third of that, however, if the distance traveled is less than 5 miles.

Here's a Powerpoint presentation summarizing the recommendations.

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