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Washington eyes taxes to support state parks

PUBLIC LANDS —  A task force appointed by the governor has recommended bringing back two unpopular taxes to help fund Washington state parks and boost the outdoor recreation industry.

The report from the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Parks and Outdoor Recreation recommends a sales tax on bottled water and an excise tax on motor homes and travel trailers.

They could collect $100 million in the next two-year budget, the task force reported.

Gov. Jay Inslee did not endorse the taxes in a statement last week, but they could become part of his budget proposal in December.

According to an Associated Press report:

The Legislature approved a tax on bottled water in 2010 only to see it repealed the same year by voters. The state ended an excise tax on motor homes and travel trailers after voters passed an initiative in 2000.

In addition to the taxes, the task force also proposes creating a position in the Department of Commerce to focus on the needs of the outdoor recreation industry. And a coordinating council should be set up to improve access to local, state and federal lands. Those could cost $750,000-a-year, the report estimates.

The task force concluded that people using parks and public lands managed by the Department of Natural Resources and Department of Fish and Wildlife are required to cover too much of the cost. The current Discover Pass, which costs $30 a year or $10 for a day pass, is unpopular and a barrier to some people, the task force said.

Inslee directed the task force to come up with ideas for stabilizing state park funding and marketing the industry to tourists. The 29-member panel began work in April. It held five public meetings and received 3,000 comments online.

Providing opportunities for outdoor recreation should be treated as an essential government service, the task force said.

“Outdoor recreation is not just fun and games,” the report said.

We’re No. 36…on one tax list

OLYMPIA — Washington state are about two-thirds of the way down the list when one considers how much of their income they pay for state and local taxes.

This according to the folks in charge of collecting the taxes, so they should know, right.

The state Department of Revenue said Washington residents paid $96.08 in state and local taxes on every $1,000 of income. That puts them at No. 36 on a list of taxes to income.

That puts them ahead of Idaho, which is ranked 45th with $89.98 per $1,000, and just behind No. 35, Oregon, which is at $96.88.

No. 1 is New York, where residents pay $204.12 per $1,000; No. 50 is South Dakota at $83.72.

Want more tax facts and figures? Click here to read the full report.

Dem freshmen leap into tax reform

OLYMPIA — Democratic freshmen in the House called this morning for tax reforms ranging from a state capital gains tax to an end to sales tax exemptions for out-of-state shoppers.

At a press conference, a dozen first-term Democratic reps also said they'd like the Office of Financial Management to do a detailed study of the state's revenue picture and the tax burdens its citizens have. They'd also like to swap the Business and Occupation tax for a 1 percent income tax.

Spokane Rep. Andy Billig, one of the 12, said they wanted a tax system that's "fair and stable and adequate."

It's Leap Day, as well as Day 52 of the 60-day session, so a reasonable question might be what's the prospect that any of this will pass before the gavel comes down on the session on March 8?

They're going to try to get proposals out of committees and onto the House floor for a vote, Billig said. But if not, they'll work over the interim to push these ideas. When they pushed for closing a tax exemption the state gives large banks on mortgages last year, they didn't get much support; this year members of both parties in both houses support it, Billig said.

The House is scheduled to vote sometime today on its version of a revised 2011-13 General Fund budget. Are they withholding their votes on their leadership's budget unless they get action on their package?

"We don't leverage votes," Rep. Chris Reykdahl of Tumwater said. "We will vote on our budget today."

Problems with the state's "structural problems" on taxes were a big topic of the House Ways and Means Committee hearing later in the morning, where Rep. Laurie Jinkins of Tacoma, another one of the 12, got a hearing on her proposal for a state capital gains tax. Chairman Ross Hunter of Medina tried to corral testimony by reminding witnesses that the panel consider fiscal issues, not policy matters. That wasn't too successful, so he warned the crowd that anyone who questioned the motives an any legislator, on any side, would have their testimony cut off.

Wireless charges for government fees and taxes climb; Washington second-highest

Yes, you're right. Those monthly cell phone bills keep getting pricier. One reason is the gradual upward-sloping rates of federal, state and local taxes added to the monthly charges, a recent report says.

That survey of all 50 states also found Washington is the second highest in overall local taxes and fees on cell plans. Nebraska retained its designation as the state with the highest rate on wireless consumers, at
23.69 percent. Washington retained its No. 2 status with a 23 percent rate.

Which means, if you have a typical $100 bill for your wireless service, the average Washington customer is paying another $23 in fees, taxes and surcharges.

This is drawn from the report "A Growing Burden: Taxes and Fees on Wireless Service," just released this past week.

It notes that since 2009, the trend has been a steady increase of taxes and fees on wireless customers, nationwide.

It said:

 "Users now face a combined federal, state, and local tax and fee burden of 16.3 percent, a rate two times higher than the average retail sales tax rate and the highest wireless rate since 2005. Consumers now pay wireless taxes, fees and government charges that exceed the retail sales tax rate.

Washington Policy Center sets 12 Eastern Washington ‘wake-up’ breakfasts

The Washington Policy Center, a non-profit, non-partisan research organization with offices in Spokane and the Tri-Cities, announced plans today to host 12 Wake-Up Call Legislative Forums around Eastern Washington during the 2011 Legislative Session.

The free breakfast events will give citizens an opportunity to get an update on what’s happening in Olympia and be connected live via videoconference to lawmakers to offer feedback.

“Eastern Washingtonians often feel left out of the legislative process, and we’re trying to change that with these special events featuring state and Eastern Washington policymakers,” Washington Policy Center President Dann Mead Smith said in a press release.

The events begin at 7 a.m. and feature a presentation from WPC and a question-answer session with lamakers in Olympia. The series kicks off Jan. 18 in the Spokane Valley. See the list below.

There will be three breakfast events in Spokane and the same number, on a rotating basis, in Yakima, Wenatchee and Tri-Cities. The dates are:

·         Spokane: Jan. 18, Feb. 15, March 22 – at the Quality Inn Hotel Spokane Valley

·         Yakima: Jan. 25, February 22, March 29 – at the Greater Yakima Chamber of Commerce

·         Wenatchee: Feb. 1, March 1, April 5 – at Banner Bank (501 N. Mission)

·         Tri-Cities: Feb. 8, March 8, April 12 – at Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce

The lineup of guests from Olympia include Attorney General Rob McKenna, state Auditor Brian Sonntag and others.  To track the guest list and get more information go to the WPC site.