The Washington State House of Representatives took a major step forward by passing the “Working Families Credit“. The legislation is a significant step forward in trying to help reverse the negative impacts of Washington State’s regressive tax system by providing help to working families in our state.
By a 57 to 37 vote the House passed ESSB 6809. This was despite efforts by House Finance Committee Chair Ross Hunter to amend the bill with onerous requirements not required for any other tax exemption. He got an amendment passed in his committee to require the legislation to be re-approved every year for funding and that a study be done comparing the benefits of the tax break with spending the money for other things like early learning, K12 or higher education for low income families.
Now if Hunter required that for every other tax exemption, particularly all those to benefit business interests, then we would say great. But that is not the case. In fact most tax exemptions passed to benefit special interests have become like tax breaks for eternity. Ideally tax exemptions should automatically sunset after a set period of time, like 5 or 10 years.
But Hunter’s hypocrisy is that he was proposing essentially a one year sunset on a tax break for low income working families that would help those hit hardest by our regressive tax system. Apparently Ross Hunter has not considered the plight of poor families in Washington State very seriously.
The national Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy in 2003 called Washington State’s tax system the most regressive in the country. The wealthiest 1% making over $1.6 million paid 3.3% of their income in Washington state and local taxes. Meanwhile those earning less than $17,000 paid 17.6 % of their income in state and local taxes.
Hunter’s initial amendment was defeated on the floor but he did get a weaker one passed which still requires that funds for the program be limited to initial startup costs and be approved by the legislature in the state omnibus appropriations act.
Besides Hunter, Democrats Clibborn, Grant, Shay Burke and Takko opposed the bill. Rep. Eickenmeyer was excused. Two Republicans supported the bill – Rep. Haley and Skinner.
Democrats deserving praise for supporting this legislation include Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown and Senator Craig Pridemore – the prime sponsor. In the House, Speaker Frank Chopp, a long time advocate for helping those in financial need was critical to this bill passing. as well as Rep Tami Green and Rep Jeanne Darnielle who helped push the bill in the House.
The bill now goes back to the Senate for approval of the amended version, requires approval in the budget bill and must be signed by the Governor.
This bill was truly a coalition effort. The Washington Tax Fairness Coalition in conjunction with research and technical expertise from the Washington State Budget and Policy Center spearheaded the coordination of this effort. A few of the groups involved included the Statewide Poverty Action Network, SEIU, Washington Sate Labor Council, LWV, Children’s Alliance, Solid Ground. Lutheran Policy Center, King County Democrats Leg. Action Committee, UFCW State Action Council, and the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle.
update: see further discussion by Andrew Garber of the Seattle Times Olympia bureau posted after we wrote our post, Seattle Times 3/8/2008 “Strings attached to tax-break bill”