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Tuesday, October 22, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  WA Government

Washington voters can ‘advise’ on a dozen tax changes, but lawmakers can ignore them

UPDATED: Fri., Oct. 4, 2019, 7:55 a.m.

Washington voters get a chance to give legislators a record amount of “advice” to keep or repeal taxes in the November election. If history holds, they’ll ignore it.

The general election ballot has a dozen advisory votes, which are required by a 2007 initiative, to let voters sound off on taxes that were started or increased in this year’s session. But that law doesn’t require legislators to follow the advice, or even bring those taxes up for reconsideration.

In the previous 19 advisory votes over the last 11 years, they haven’t.

Unlike initiatives and referendums, which have statements by supporters and opponents in the Voter’s Guide, tax advisory votes have only a ballot title written by the state attorney general’s office and a projection – if one is available – from the Office of Financial Management of the amount of revenue the tax would generate over its first 10 years. Together, they would collect an estimated $9.7 billion in taxes over that period.

Here’s a look at the 12 advisory votes on the 2019 ballot:

Vote 20: Sets up a long-term care program by collecting a premium of 0.58% of a worker’s wages starting in 2022, but could be reduced in 2024. OFM lists the revenue as “indeterminate” because there are too many variables to estimate the number of participants and the receipts.

Vote 21: A surcharge of 0.052% on the business and occupation tax paid by timber companies was due to expire in 2024. It was extended to 2045 to pay for economic development programs in rural areas. Estimated revenue is $21 million over 10 years.

Vote 22: Adds a fee to the sale of interior and exterior paint for residential and commercial use to set up programs to collect and process leftover paint and keep it out of landfills. Estimated revenue is $6 million over 10 years.

Vote 23: Establishes a tax on vaping products based on the size of the containers of the solution used, with the money split between a public health account and a cancer research fund. Estimated revenue is $178 million over 10 years.

Vote 24: Places a surcharge on the B&O taxes collected from certain professional businesses, including legal, architectural, engineering, medical and research businesses, with higher surcharges on advanced computing businesses, to pay for expansion of the state Need Grant program. Estimated revenue is $2.25 billion over 10 years.

Vote 25: Increases the B&O tax paid by financial institutions with annual net income above $1 billion by 1.2 percent, with the money going to the General Fund, which pays for most state programs and salaries. Estimated revenue is more than $1 billion over 10 years.

Vote 26: Changes and expands the rules on which out-of-state businesses must collect and remit sales tax on online purchases made by Washington residents. Money goes to General Fund. Estimated revenue is more than $1 billion over 10 years.

Vote 27: Changes the hazardous substance tax on petroleum products from a percentage of the value to $1.09 per 42-gallon barrel, with the money going to programs that clean up toxic waste. Estimated revenue is $2.76 billion over 10 years.

Vote 28: Changes the sales-tax exemption certain out-of-state shoppers receive to a remittance program that requires the visitor to file an annual refund, and only if the tax paid is more than $25. Money goes to the General Fund. Estimated revenue is $313 million over 10 years.

Vote 29: Changes the calculation of the real estate excise tax from a flat rate of 1.28% of the sale price to a sliding scale that is 1.1% for sales below $500,000; 1.28% for sales from $500,000 to $1.5 million; 2.75% on sales from $1.5 million to $3 million; and 3% to sales above $3 million. Most money goes to the General Fund. Estimated revenue is $1.75 billion over 10 years.

Vote 30: Raises the B&O tax rate on travel agents and tour operators with gross incomes above $250,000 per year from 0.275% to 0.9 percent, with the money going into the General Fund. Estimated revenue is $28 million over 10 years.

Vote 31: Revises the criteria needed for international investment firms to qualify for a preferential B&O tax rate, raising the rate from .275% to 1.5% for those that don’t qualify. Estimated revenue is $367 million over 10 years.

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