Published March 06, 2010
Senators put own money on line in sales tax bill
The state Senate voted today to disallow lawmakers' own expense allowances after June 2013 — if for some reason Democrats' proposed temporary sales tax increase does not go away as scheduled by mid-2013.The amendment, which Republican Sen. Joe Zarelli of Ridgefield sponsored, passed on a simple voice vote, and Democratic Sen. Rodney Tom of Medina said his majority party agreed. But it may end up as just a formality — if the Senate Democrats and House Democrats don't ultimately agree that a temporary three-tenths of 1 percent sales tax is part of the answer to closing a $2.8 billion shortfall. The House firmly opposes it. Gov. Chris Gregoire doesn't much like it either.Speaking of disagreements, the mini-accord on expenses or "per diem" was one of just a few points of agreement today as Democrats and Republicans sparred in the Senate on a raft of amendments to the majority Democrats' $890 million package of tax increases. Senate Democrats rejected several Republican amendments. They would have sent Senate Bill 6143 to a vote of the people in November or lopped elements that close tax exemptions.Included was feisty talk on both sides of the $10 million exemption that the TransAlta power-generation company received in the 1990s for the use of locally mined coal in its Centralia-area electrical plant. The Canadian company shut down its mine and began importing coal from Montana and other western states a few years ago, which threw hundreds of workers out of jobs, and Democrats say removal of the tax credit will hasten TransAlta's transition to cleaner natural gas fuels. Republicans say repeal of the exemption will kill jobs.The GOP lost every argument it made, except Zarelli's amendment on lawmakers' $90 a day "per diem" expenses while in session.And the Senate quickly adjourned around 3:50 p.m., apparently lacking votes to pass the package unless all of their members were present. One key vote absent today was Sen. Paull Shin of Edmonds, who was attending a funeral. Other key Democrats such as Sen. Rodney Tom, the No. 2 budget-writer, voted against the tax package in committee on Friday evening, and it is unclear how much margin of error Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown has on the tax issue.Despite the delay, the Senate is poised to take a shot at passing SB 6143 when members return to the floor around noon on Sunday. The House adjourned today and is not working Sunday — because many members are attending a funeral in Renton for Steve Maxwell, husband of Democratic Rep. Marcie Maxwell. He died Feb. 28 of cancer.Rep. Ross Hunter, the Medina Democrat who wrote a $758 million tax plan for the House, said he thinks the full House will vote on it Monday. HB 3176 includes about $758 million in new revenue and shifts another $100 million in revenues to general-fund accounts. The new revenue is raised mainly through closing tax exemptions and increasing the business-occupations tax on lawyers, accountants and certain agents by 0.5 percent. HB 3176 also adds a sales tax on candy, gum, custom software, janitorial services and bottled water.Hunter plans to announce a replacement tax Monday for one piece of his package that proved unworkable. That was to raise $58 million from repealing a business-occupations tax on certain companies' investment earnings. The replacement won't be a sales tax, Hunter promised. I'm curious to learn if it isn't a larger version of the toxics tax, which Gregoire favors. It was scaled back recently in both chambers to cover storm water projects for cities and counties but not help close the state budget shortfall.Odds are growing that lawmakers cannot finish their work on budgets before Thursday’s scheduled adjournment of their 60-day regular session.