The Senate Ways & Means Committee heard public testimony on six bills packed with tax increases today. Of course, most of the "public" were interest and industry groups--some opposed to particular tax hikes and others, like the Washington Education Association, openly in favor of any and every "revenue enhancement."
The biggest tax hike on the table is SB 5166, which would create ... wait for it ... a state income tax.
I was pleased to represent not just the Freedom Foundation, but the majority of voters who less than three years ago said "No," to a state income tax. I pointed out that even King County voters had opposed creating a state income tax. Former Gov. Gregoire actually bragged that Washington's lack of an income tax is a reason businesses should consider locating in the state.
Committee Chairman Andy Hill asked exactly the right question (several times) to the WEA lobbyists: "Would this be enough?" If all six of the bills passed, he enquired, would that be enough?
Revealingly, the WEA offered repeated non-answers and obfuscations. But everyone in the room knew the answer. The WEA is an interest group that will always ask for more. Their ideological fellow travelers in nations with far larger governments still ask for more. At the federal level, where 40 cents of every dollar spent is borrowed from the next generation, the National Education Association demands more.
The second tax bill up for a hearing was SB 5248, which would impose a 'sin tax' on plastic shopping bags. I offered testimony about recent studies that show negative public health effects of pushing consumers toward reusable bags. Inspired by some of the testimony about the needs of children and the burdens on our state's poor, I pointed out that free shopping bags are likely more important to our state's middle- and lower-income shoppers (Costco shoppers get boxes...) and that the health impacts of E. coli and similar bugs fall hardest on, yes, the children.
SB 5039 would extend "temporary" tax hikes on beer and service businesses and earmark the money for education. These taxes are set to expire this June and would be extended for three and a half more years. The bill would also create a new additional gas tax and dedicate the revenue to pay for school transportation.
By far the kookiest idea on the agenda was SB 5041, which would (among a host of other things) tax newspapers based on content. A "dominant" and "biased" newspaper would lose its current tax deduction. Offered by two of Washington's farthest-to-the-left Senators, the bill offers no definition of bias nor does it define who would do the ideological policing. SB 5041 is almost certainly unconstitutional on its face, since it would create uncertainty about what speech might be penalized by the state.
Finally, SB 5042 would limit a current B&O tax deduction for investment and SB 5043 would limit the current property tax exemption for intangible property. Each represents a tax increase on select businesses and individuals.
Update: TVW video is now available at this link. Clips of my testimony are below and I'll collect some of the more interesting exchanges into a separate post.
Coming up Friday
Only nine committees will meet Friday.
The House Early Learning Committee is slated to hear two bills to create new commissions to study day care and preschool programs and to lay out agendas for increased government control in these areas. One of the bills, HB 1723, would set a priority on funding an "integrated full-day early learning program for children ages birth-five."
The House Education Committee has a long list of bills up for votes. For public comment, the committee will hear HB 1562, which would mandate paying teachers for two more days of "professional development," and HB 1492, which would make it easier for school districts to get waivers from the state requirement to provide 180 days of instruction.
Update: Below is Freedom Foundation testimony on SB 5166 and SB 5248, respectively.