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Tax breaks don’t change with the times

OLYMPIA -- The Legislature should take a look at tax breaks for insurance agents and travel agents, for high tech manufacturers and bio-tech manufacturers, for folks who load big ships and folks who catch certain kinds of fish, a House committee was told Monday.

Some of them may not be stimulating the economy or creating or protect jobs as the Legislature intended when they were granted five, 10, or more than 70 years ago.

But that's hard to tell, representatives of the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee told the House Finance Committee, because in many cases the Legislature didn't set down in law what it expected. The commission reviewed about three dozen tax credits, exemptions or special rates last year, and about a dozen should at least be clarified so researchers can tell if they're working as intended, an auditor said. A citizen commission said some of those should be eliminated, although legislators who sit on the review committee disagreed.

When questions arise about the jobs a tax incentive provides, it gets difficult to determine how many that are attributed to the tax break wouldn't have been created without it, John Woolley of the auditing staff said it.

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The Spokesman-Review's political team keeps a critical eye on local, state and national politics.