Boosting state sales tax is a mistake

State government will become used to the additional revenue and this so-called temporary tax will never be lifted.

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Like a boxer, state lawmakers have been softening up taxpayers with body blows.

The proposed new taxes have been small -- a little extra on bottled water, candy, pop, cigarettes, pipe tobacco and pesticides. Other proposed taxes have been aimed at out-of-state companies doing business in Washington. And, of course, some tax loopholes will be closed.

All of this has been pitched as almost painless -- taxes on others, but not us.

That can't be. If taxes are generating revenue, that revenue has to come from somebody. If businesses are paying taxes then those businesses pass the costs along to customers if they can. If not, then those businesses cut costs, lay off employees or shut the doors.

Every tax, regardless of how small or seemingly painless, impacts all of us -- like that body blow. One or two blows aren't a problem, but getting hit over and over again takes a toll.

But now lawmakers are poised to take a swing at our collective jaw. Senate Democrats are now considering boosting the statewide sales tax by three-tenths of a cent until 2013.

Whoa!

Boosting the sales tax across the state is a mistake, and it's not necessary.

It's one thing for a community, as Walla Walla did recently, to vote to raise its local sales tax for a specific reason such as funding public transit. That tax is balanced against the economic and social benefits of a bus system.

Raising the state's portion of the sales tax, which is now 6.5 percent, has a far wider impact -- and it's mostly negative. It is going to take money directly out of the pockets of consumers, many of whom are already hurting because of the current recession.

The bigger problem, however, is that state government will get used to having that additional revenue. When the temporary tax increase is scheduled to be taken away in 2013 there will be whining about the deep, painful cuts that will have to occur if the three-tenths of one percent sales tax hike goes away.

The fact, albeit a sad one, is that temporary taxes often -- too often -- become permanent taxes.

We still don't like the idea of taxes on bottled water, candy, pop, cigarettes, etc., but we get that the fiscal situation in state government is serious. The cuts being considered are going to hurt.

This is why we continue to believe that a better approach is to offset some of those proposed cuts with real wage freezes or furloughs. As it stands now, those with union contracts are still seeing their wages go up.

The governor and lawmakers need to convince unions officials and their members to agree to temporary pay freezes so the state can weather this crisis.

And these freezes would be temporary as we are confident the employees and their unions would keep pressure on lawmakers to restore the lost pay.

A sales tax hike should not even be considered. It could be the knockout blow that keeps Washington's economy down for several years.

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