OLYMPIA – The Legislature is moving toward a fight over taxes that will ultimately come down to which ones to raise.
Although Republicans and some Democrats will say “none,” odds are the debate will be between bumping one big tax, like the sales tax, or finding small increases or new taxes on a bunch of things.
Gov. Chris Gregoire sent legislators a menu of the latter last week, with new or bigger taxes on things like petroleum at the refinery, candy and bottled water. Each has a rationale: Candy makes you fat; oil products drip out of cars and into the water supply; and bottled water is a silly affectation that dumps a gazillion plastic bottles into landfills.
But if state officials are serious about taxing things we don’t like or shouldn’t do, it’s time to consider the following:
•A tax on annoying ring tones. Whether it’s Beethoven’s Fifth or “Love Me Do,” nothing’s worse than a weird ring tone going off in the middle of a meeting, restaurant or church service. Cell phones that have more than three ring tones would pay a surcharge at sale. Those downloaded over the Internet would be taxed $1 each. Yes, it would hit a certain demographic: high school kids. Tough; it’s time they start contributing to things around here.
•A user fee for any company that advertises a phone number that spells out a word. They may argue it’s cute or catchy; tell that to someone trying to find K or R in the tiny letters on cell phone buttons.
•A tax on tattoos. This needn’t be a big tax, given the growing propensity of some people to get inked. But it should be progressive: double if the tattoo is a Chinese character, triple for a sentence or paragraph written in small script from the shoulder to the elbow and quadruple if tattoos cover more than 10 percent of one’s body or the number of tattoos exceed the number of the wearer’s teeth. Exemptions for veterans’ military units, name of a spouse or “Mom.”
•A jump in the business and occupation tax for any company whose main phone number puts callers into a phone tree where they must press 1 for this and 2 for that. Double it if at the end of all that pressing you get someone in Mumbai who has as much trouble understanding you as you do him. Hiring locals to answer phones could shave a full percentage point off unemployment.
•A sharp increase in fines for people who don’t clean up their dogs’ droppings. Some people will whine that this is government acting as bathroom monitor and too labor intensive, but cities could easily relocate red light cameras from the intersections to the parks and catch the worst offenders.
•A graduated tax on all campaign contributions. Candidates and political action committees would pay a percentage based on the donation: 1 percent under $50; 2 percent between $50 and $100; 3 percent up to $300 and 10 on anything above that. Accounting would be simple: Just check the Public Disclosure Commission reports.
•A surcharge on negative campaign commercials. No tax at all on a candidate who says “Vote for me, here’s what I’ll do” in a mailing, ad or TV spot. A $50 fee for each mention of the opponent’s name and a fee equal to the cost of the ad if it attacks an opponent’s character or mischaracterizes his or her record. To those who object, we say that just because the Supreme Court says political speech is “free speech” does not mean it must be “free” speech.
By November, the state would be back in a surplus.