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Northwest Voices

Seattle Times letters to the editor

February 20, 2009 at 3:37 PM

Washington state economy

Reducing tax regressivity

The state government’s tax-revenue situation is critical, posing huge reductions in programs for Washington state residents. Citizens of this state face dire options: a dramatic cut in government services or a change in the way we finance government.

Our plight is multiplied by our current-tax structure, which is greatly impacted by cyclical-economic fluctuations. Why? Because we have a very unbalanced state- and local government-taxing structure with an extraordinary dependence on sales-type taxes.

Beyond sales tax on consumer purchases, this state levies a business and occupations (B&O) tax that is essentially a sales tax on business revenues in Washington state.

In economic downturns, this type of tax-revenue structure always has huge downturns in revenue.

What are the options? It is time to review the work of the special-tax commission established by former Gov. Gary Locke and chaired by Bill Gates Sr. This thoughtful body recommended key changes in our tax structure, including the introduction of a state-income tax and reductions in sales and B&O taxes.

Almost every state in the United States has a state-income tax. The Gates Commission clearly showed that this tax would reduce the regressivity of taxes in Washington state.

It is time to resurrect the work of this distinguished commission, as we address the current state- and local government-fiscal crisis.

— William Beyers, Seattle

Giving grocery stores control of hard liquor

Last week Gov. Christine Gregoire spoke about consolidating an estimated 50 schools — those with fewer than 150 students [“Streamlining discussion starts,” Local News, Feb. 12].

She also said, “It’s time for us to see a new path forward.” Well, how about this new path forward: closing state-liquor stores and allowing grocery stores to handle hard-liquor sales, as is the current mode of operation for two thirds of the states in this country.

According to the Washington State Liquor Control Board Web site, there are 313 state-liquor stores. For argument’s sake, let’s say there are three state employees per store with the cost to the state of around $40,000 per employee (factor in wages, benefits, social security, workman’s compensation, etc.). This amounts to more than $37.6 million per year.

Also, factor in lease rent and expenses of at least $1,500 per store for another $5.6 million per year. This totals at least $43 million of state expenses that could be handled by retail outlets.

Washington is one of only 17 states which still maintain control over the sale of distilled liquors. If this plan were adopted, the state would still have the ability to influence pricing and collect revenue on alcohol, while saving millions of dollars on expenses.

— Ben Kromm, Pullman

Voting with their dollar

It was a pleasant change to read your article, “Small way to help small business” [page one, Feb. 17]. I feel like most things I read these days are about problems, not the solutions an everyday person could assimilate into their daily lives.

Buying local is so easy!

I live in Bellingham and love to be able to walk down to the local bakery or farmers market to get my food. Not only am I giving back to the community; when I buy local I have more of an idea what I’m getting. There are no hidden ecological costs because there is no transport from Chile or anywhere else and no, or very few, worries about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) when your food is coming from local farms and dedicated businesses.

This is such an important message to get out to the masses not only to keep small businesses afloat, but also to possibly butt out the huge Walmart-type corporations that seem to have taken over in the past couple of decades. I am so glad to see smaller communities are not only taking this economic crisis in their own hands, but voting with their dollar.

Thank you for your solution-oriented article. It was a nice pick-me-up amid all of the morbid news these days.

— Brynn Hall, Bellingham

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