By Chris Cargill
Most politicians could only dream of a scenario in which a flood of extra tax revenues suddenly lets them cut taxes in an election year. But clearly Washington state leaders think differently.
While other states move to cut taxes in these tough times, hardliners in the Washington state Legislature have decided to keep the extra money for their own spending priorities and offer no general relief.
It’s not that they don’t have the cash. The state expects to take in more than $10 billion in extra revenue. Returning the surplus to families just wasn’t a top priority for the majority party.
It wasn’t as if they didn’t have bipartisan ideas – Olympia just wanted to spend it elsewhere.
State tax revenue has surged to record levels over the past few years. That, coupled with an influx of COVID-related cash from the federal government, provided the perfect conditions for a tax reduction. Lawmakers just couldn’t find the will to pull the trigger.
Idaho lawmakers gave rebates to citizens last year and cut the income tax this year.
California’s governor has proposed some $9 billion in tax rebates.
New York state is going to return $2.2 billion in one-time property tax rebates for low and middle-income homeowners. The state also plans to cut tax rates by $162 million.
In Mississippi, lawmakers cut the state income tax and may repeal it altogether.
Maryland decided extra revenue and surging gas prices were enough to give drivers in the state a break. Gov. Larry Hogan signed a temporary suspension of the Maryland gas tax.
Hawaii is considering a $300 tax rebate to those earning less than $100,000 per year, and $100 to those earning more.
In Indiana, taxpayers are receiving checks of about $125 each this month. That might not be much, but it is the principal of financial relief that counts.
Across the country, regardless of political control, lawmakers are moving forward with reducing the tax burden.
Instead of returning even a morsel to working families, Washington state lawmakers decided they could better spend the cash themselves on a host of new government programs and offerings.
There are numerous options available. They could provide temporary relief from the state gas tax of almost 50 cents per gallon. They could reduce property taxes. They could cut the state sales tax, providing direct inflation relief.
The state sales tax rate of 6.5% hasn’t been touched for 40 years. Reducing the sales tax would help working families most. Lawmakers again said no, despite bipartisan proposals.
If Washington ever was going to provide substantial broad-based tax relief, this is the year. Shockingly, the Senate majority leadership couldn’t find the time (or will) to hold even one public hearing on the bipartisan sales tax cut bill.
For about five minutes, lawmakers considered a three-day sales tax holiday and giving out free parking passes at state parks, but even those tight-fisted ideas were dropped.
There is always resistance to tax relief, including the laughable claim that giving people their own money back is a “cost” to the government. Let’s make something very clear – the money doesn’t belong to the government. Tax rebates or reductions don’t cost the government anything. It’s your money.
Because of the lack of action on any broad-based tax reduction, even a liberal columnist in the Seattle Times proclaimed, “Washington Democrats, you’re proving your tax critics right.”
Let’s hope that when the Legislature meets again in January, members of both parties will come together in support of returning at least part of the tax surplus to those who own it and those who need it – the citizens.
Chris Cargill is the Eastern Washington director for Washington Policy Center, an independent research organization with offices in Spokane and Seattle. Online at washingtonpolicy.org. Members of the Cowles family, owners of The Spokesman-Review, have previously hosted fundraisers for the Washington Policy Center and sit on the organization’s board.
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