Latest from The Spokesman-Review
A strong majority of Americans say the individual mandate is a tax, rather than a penalty or a fee, according to a CNN-ORC poll released on Monday. Sixty percent said they view the individual mandate as a tax, versus 39 that said it’s not a tax. Republicans jumped on the court’s ruling that the healthcare law's individual mandate, which the Obama administration originally pitched as a penalty or fee for those who don’t purchase insurance, is constitutional under Congress’s power to tax, calling it evidence that President Obama has raised taxes on the middle class/Jonathan Easley, The Hill. More here.
From the print paper:
OLYMPIA – Encouraged by the large turnout this spring at anti-tax rallies, critics of government spending are planning a new round of demonstrations July 4.
Events are planned in more than 20 Washington cities, including Spokane Valley, as well as in Sandpoint and Boise. One rally in Olympia – the first of two – took place Saturday.
“It’s gotten to a point, with the out-of-control spending and the government nationalizing the auto industry, banking and things like that, that it’s woken the silent majority up,” said Dan Rehling, of Olympia, who’s organizing the July 4 demonstration at the Washington state Capitol. “This is my prediction: It’s going to be the biggest rally the Capitol has ever seen.”
The demonstrations are modeled on April 15’s anti-tax demonstrations, which drew thousands of people to the Statehouse and other sites across the state.
“We’re not against taxes. We’re against unreasonable taxation beyond the scope of the Constitution,” said Dann Selle, a spokesman for a group that is organizing the Spokane-area rally July 4. It’s tentatively slated for Plantes Ferry Park in Spokane Valley.
Much of organizers’ ire is directed at the Obama administration’s moves to try to right the economy, including federal stimulus spending.
“All these people are saying it’s just a bunch of right-wing extremists living on the fringe,” Rehling said. “I am not that person. I’m just an average Joe that is fired up.”
State Rep. Brendan Williams said the demonstrators’ passions are misplaced.
“It would have been nice if they were protesting the excesses of the Bush administration that got us into this economic calamity,” said Williams, D-Olympia. “Now they seem to be faulting Obama for trying to dig us out.”
State tax officials: Churches hosting farmers markets in their parking lots must pay property tax on the land…
I had this story in the morning paper:
OLYMPIA – State tax officials recently gave several Spokane-area churches an ultimatum: Stop running farmers markets in your parking lots or start paying tax on that land.
“We have no choice here. The law is really clear,” said Mike Gowrylow, a spokesman for the state Department of Revenue. “When you’ve got a commercial business – no matter how small or homegrown – operating on tax-exempt property, then it runs afoul of the law.”
Two of the farmers markets – one in Millwood and the one in downtown Spokane – will stay where they are, according to the Rev. Craig Goodwin, of Millwood Community Presbyterian Church.
He said his church will pay the $700 or so in taxes on its parking lot to enable the farmers market to continue.
“I’m familiar with the Bible passage ‘Pay unto Caesar what is Caesar’s,’ and we’re willing to do that,” he said. But he said the markets are a crucial community asset that should be exempt.
“Sens. Lisa Brown, Joe McDermott, Adam Kline, Jeanne Kohl-Welles and other member of the Senate Democratic Caucus with hold a press conference today at 12:15 p.m. in the majority caucus room about the need for a continued dialogue with the public about our unfair tax system and how a high-earners income tax could benefit an overwhelming majority of taxpayers in our state.”
Cougars’ last-ditch effort to head off tax dollars for UW stadium? Small plane circling the capitol…
A small, single-engine plane is circling the state capitol, trailing a huge banner reading “NO HUSKY STADIUM BAILOUT TAX!”
(Click the read-more line for another photo.)
Stuff’s moving quickly, so here’s a quick overview of recent developments, etc:
-The polling came back Friday on a proposed third-of-a-cent sales tax hike, and the numbers prompted an on-again, off-again Saturday, with groups and lawmakers weighing whether to press ahead with a public vote on the plan.
“We weren’t sure (the numbers) were strong enough to go forward,” said Cassie Sauer, who’s part of a coalition of health groups (hospitals, nursing homes, a nurses union, SEIU). She wouldn’t give out numbers, although she said that the number of people supporting a tax increase was higher than those opposed. And the numbers were “through the roof” as far as public disapproval of cuts to pediatric health, hospitals, nursing, etc. But many people are clearly very worried about the economy, she said.
So is the health coalition still willing to back a campaign to win public support for the temporary tax increase, which would add $1.1 billion over three years? “We’re thinking about it,” said Sauer.
-The Washington Policy Center’s Jason Mercier has posted two video clips, less than three weeks apart, in which a) Rep. Eric Pettigrew is praising the House budget as a responsible document and b) he says that the budget will result in people dying.
-David Goldstein, at horsesass.org, reports that momentum for an income tax on high earners is faltering: “`Next year,’ income tax advocates are being told. `Maybe next year.’ Yeah. Right.”
Goldstein argues that if ever there was a moment of opportunity for such a plan, it’s now. Not next year, when most House lawmakers will be running for re-election. Writes Goldstein:
By “next year,” of course, the powers that be mean “some other year,” which really means “never.”
-The Homeowners’ Bill of Rights has apparently died, for the third year in a row.
-With Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown and Sen. Chris Marr standing in the House wings Friday, there was some high drama Friday night involving SB 5840, which was intended to ease some of the renewable-power rules for power companies, easing the cost to ratepayers. Environmentalists say the bill largely guts Initiative 937, which set those standards.
In a rare alliance, environmentalist House Democrats joined Republicans to pass an amendment that seems likely to kill the bill: declaring all hydropower renewable, which would largely render I-937 meaningless. From the Olympian’s Brad Shannon:
“We put a poison pill in it,” said Rep. Zack Hudgins, D-Tukwila, who voted for the amendment and then voted against the final bill.
TVW’s Niki Sullivan adds this: “It might be working: The Senate rejected the House’s amendments yesterday. It now heads to a conference committee.”
-The Seattle Times’ Jennifer Sullivan has an update on a proposal to privatize some child-welfare services. (The short form: it’s now a pilot project instead of the original sweeping reform.)
-Publicola’s Josh Feit has the blow-by-blow in the continuing tussle between education advocates over whether a bill redefining basic education. And here’s a long statement from House education chairwoman Rosemary McAuliffe, who calls the struggle over HB 2261 “one of the most difficult and bittersweet weeks in my time in our Legislature.”
-Lawmakers have agreed to defer $430 million in state pension payments.
-Lastly: lawmakers have, in fact, banned novelty lighters (those that could be mistaken for a toy or that have flashing lights) out of concern that they attract children who end up starting fires with them.
Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown has been issuing a Harper’s-like index of statistics over the past few days. Today’s looks at taxes. Here’s an excerpt — and the last line is the key one:
-Number of states where households pay more in state and local property taxes than in Washington: 24
-Number of states where businesses pay more in total business taxes than in Washington: 38
-Total state revenues accounted for by the sales tax: 56 percent
-National average: 24.6 percent
-Number of states whose state and local sales taxes are lower than in Washington: 40
-Percentage that households earning less than $20,000 per year pay in state and local taxes relative to their income: 17.5
-Percentage that households earning up to $143,000 per year pay in state and local taxes relative to their income: 7.4
-Percentage that households earning over $992,000 per year pay in state and local taxes relative to their income: 3.1
-Number of states with a more unfair tax system for lower and middle class taxpayers: 0.
A new poll re: possible tax increases to support state parks comes back with these results:
-$5 fee to park at parks and trails? 55 percent support, 43 percent don’t.
-an (unspecificed) tax on motor homes and campers? 52 percent support, 43 percent don’t.
-A 1-cent-per-$1,000-value property tax increase (i.e. $2.50 on a $250k home)? 46 percent support, 50 percent don’t.
-A $5-a-year increase in vehicle license tabs? (No mention made of the fact that this would be a voluntary charge, which is what lawmakers are talking about): 40 percent support, 56 percent don’t.
The poll was commissioned by Citizens for Parks and Recreation. Below is coordinator Jim King’s explanation of where the proposed tax ideas came from and why the car-tab one didn’t include the “opt-out” provision.
But first, how much money would these things raise, anyway? From King:
-The day use/parking fees were raising about $8 million per biennium when they were discontinued in 2006.
-The RV tax would raise just under $40 million per biennium.
-The one cent per thousand dollars of assessed valuation property tax would raise about $18 million per biennium.
-The $5 license tab fee raises about $5.6 million per biennium for every ten percent of vehicle owners who choose to pay- $28 million per biennium if 50% pay, $22.4 million if 40% choose to pay, etc.
And from his letter:
To all persons interested in our State Parks:
Attached are the results from polling done a week ago, looking for some data on various state parks funding options that have been considered in recent years. The day-use, or parking, fee was in place from 2003 into 2006; the RV tax was considered in 2003 as a recommendation of the State Parks and Outdoor Recreation Funding Task Force that met during the 2002 interim; the “penny for parks” proposal has been advanced by Senator Mary Margaret Haugen and others in recent years; and the $5 car tabs is currently the leading option under consideration for filling some of the gap in State Parks funding.
We specifically did not ask whether people supported or opposed the “opt-out” car tab proposal, but instead tried to measure support for paying a $5 car tab, because what is important in that discussion is not whether people would support or oppose an ability to “opt-out” but whether or not people would be willing to pay the additional $5 car tab.
UPDATE: Jason Mercier, at the Washington Policy Center, forwarded this set of recommendations from the last time the state was trying to figure out how to keep parks open in the face of a big budget shortfall.
The report urges daily fees, and would vary the cost by how nice/popular the park is. It’s silly, the report suggests, to have a carload of six pay the same price at a popular park on Labor Day weekend as some loner pays to trudge through the rain at a tiny, little-used park in April.
What about low-income families? The report suggests corporate sponsorships, coupons from local businesses, free access for children who qualify for free school lunches, and discounted days.
“With these complementary actions, Parks and Recreation Commissioners and State Legislators secure the future of Washington’s state parks, while keeping faith with park users and other taxpayers,” wrote report author Jeff Hanson.
The state Supreme Court has just ruled against state Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, who filed suit last year to try to overturn a requirement that tax increases be approved by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature.
That voter-approved law is nowhere to be found in the state constitution, and Brown argued that the ballot measure was, in essence, an attempt to change the constitution without actually going through the difficult process of doing so.
The Supreme Court said unanimously today that the dispute at the heart of Brown’s case (a ruling by Senate President Brad Owen) is a legislative matter, not something the court intends to wade into. Writing for the court, Justice Mary Fairhurst said:
Intervention of this court into an intrahouse dispute over a parliamentary ruling to compel the president of the senate to perform a discretionary duty would be a grave violation of separation
of powers. We dismiss the action.
Doing away with the two-thirds rule would have made it easier for lawmakers to increase taxes in the fact of a massive budget shortfall over the next two years.
The Evergreen Freedom Foundation has posted a link to the ruling here.
A surprisingly bipartisan group of 15 senators is proposing a tax break for newspapers.
Senate Bill 5942, introduced this morning by Sen. Margarita Prentice, would lower newspapers’ business and occupation tax rate from .484 percent of gross to .2904 percent from 2010 to 2015. No fiscal note’s been prepared yet to show how much the tax break would cost the state treasury.
A senator from a struggling timber district has come up with an interesting idea: a tax on plastic.
The money would go into a special “climate protection forestry account,” which would be used to pay for incentives to the forestry industry. The goal: to reduce carbon, presumably by growing trees. The incentives would be for forest management, including thinning and fertilization, and encouraging the use of wood in construction, “instead of the more intensive fossil fuel products such as concrete, plastic, and steel.”
Senate Bill 5747 comes from Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, a self-employed forester.
Plastic- and plastic-container makers in Washington would have to pay a tax equal to about one-fifth of 1 percent on the value of the products they churn out.
The bill has been referred to the Senate environment committee.
The American Heart Association, cancer society, and the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids are calling for $1-a-pack tax hike on cigarettes, saying that less smoking saves the state a lot of money on health costs.
“It’s not about revenue, it’s about health savings,” state Sen. Rodney Tom said in a press release minutes ago. Tom, D-Medina, today introduced Senate Bill 5626.
“The societal cost of a pack of cigarettes is over $15,” he said. “So we’re subsidizing smoking.”
Washington already charges a fifth-highest-in-the-nation cigarette tax of $20.25 a carton, plus sales tax. This would add $10 per carton to that.
Tom’s bill would steer the additional money into anti-tobacco programs, the state’s general fund, a water quality fund, a violence-reduction and drug-enforcement account, a fund for schools, and anything left over would go to the state’s health services account.
Proponents say the changes would mean nearly $100 million a year in new taxes and would reduce smoking.
From TVW’s Inside Olympia program, here’s House budget chairwoman Kelli Linville and Sen. Joe Zarelli, making predictions about how the session will go.
“I’ll predict right now that there will be potentially some kind of tax package,” Linville says.
Hat tip: TVW’s Niki Sullivan.
Yesterday, the Tacoma News-Tribute had a screamer headline about the flooding: “IT’S BAD — AND IT COULD GET EVEN WORSE TODAY.”
They should paste that headline on the wall at the state Economic and Revenue Forecast, where the budget news just seems to be getting worse.
State tax collections dropped $134 million last month from what was expected, according to senior economic forecaster Eric Swenson.
That’s a steep decline, and it covers the key holiday shopping period: Dec. 11 to Jan. 10.
This month’s adjusted year-over-year decline is the largest since Revenue Act reporting in its
current format began in January 1989. Prior to this month, the largest decline was 7.2 percent
in the January 11 – February 10, 2002 collection period.
This decline, by comparison, is 13.9 percent from the same period last year.
The biggest-declining sectors were car and truck dealers, furniture sellers, building materials and garden stores, and gas stations and convenience stores. Compared to the same month a year ago, taxes from auto dealers have now dropped every month for a year.
The good news, such as it is, was for electronics and appliance sellers, which held steady, and drug stores, which dropped just 1.9 percent.
Also dropping: real estate excise tax, property tax payments, liquor tax collections and, to a lesser degree, cigarette tax collections.