Tax breaks easy, but not always effective, political targets

The candidates for governor are talking about ending tax breaks, but they aren't specific.


Earlier this year, when state government was faced with a budget problem in excess of $2 billion, Gov. Chris Gregoire, a Democrat, suggested a significant amount of money could be garnered if useless tax breaks were eliminated.

Now, as the campaign to replace her starts to heat up, Democrat Jay Inslee and Republican Rob McKenna are following Gregoire's lead.

The Tacoma News Tribune's Jordan Schrader reported this week that Inslee and McKenna claim they can fund their agenda by slashing some of the hundreds of tax breaks now offered by Washington. Which ones? Well, they aren't sure yet.

Every candidate for office is for jobs, good roads and clean air. Oh, and to put an end to useless tax breaks.

Yet, when it's time to establish exactly which tax breaks are useless, opinions differ greatly. One's perspective, as the old saying goes, depends on whose ox is being gored.

Gregoire found that out the hard way as she pushed Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature to eliminate the tax breaks she targeted.

Gregoire scoffed at the idea that the next governor would be able to get lawmakers to eliminate tax breaks or find significant savings.

"Oh, that was really successful this legislative session," Gregoire said sarcastically. "I gave them a list as long as the room, and what did they get me? Remember how many they got me? Yeah: one."

Lawmakers managed to narrow exactly one exemption, Schrader reported. This was one that required big banks to pay taxes on earnings from home-mortgage interest. Ironically, that reduction was included in a law that adds or extends other breaks, benefiting newspapers, port businesses, server farms and actual farms.

In addition, lawmakers brought back to life a tax break for film and television productions that ultimately raised -- not lowered -- revenue lost to tax breaks.

Tax breaks are rarely approved as an act of generosity. Tax exemptions are usually offered as part of a deal to benefit the state and its citizens. Tax breaks are almost always to keep businesses in the state and keep folks employed.

Still, when circumstances change, it makes sense to review tax breaks that have outlived their usefulness.

Inslee and McKenna would be better served to offer a few specifics and then fight for them on the campaign trail. But, in doing so, the candidates better make sure they fully understand the ramifications of ending the tax break.


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