This is no time for small ball: WA legislators need to take a hard look at tax breaks

Rep. Andy Billig

Rep. Andy Billig

The national recession has hit Washington hard – with the economy slowing down, the state’s tax revenues have dropped sharply, to the tune of a projected $4.6 billion revenue shortfall for 2011-13.

With $5 billion already cut from the state budget since 2009, the easy budget choices are gone. Unless, of course we start doing things differently – which is exactly what State Rep. Andy Billig (D-Spokane) is now proposing.

As we’ve written before, Washington has 500+ tax exemptions on the books. These exemptions give billions in public subsidies for elective cosmetic surgerynon-organic fertilizers and corporate transportation, just to name a few.

Billig, applying his experience as a former business manager for a local baseball team, writes that reviewing these exemptions – and ending those that show little public value – would be an effective way to maintain critical programs and infrastructure during challenging economic times:

One idea grows out of my experiences during the past two decades that I have spent running a business in Spokane. When we create the annual budget for our business, the Spokane Indians, we treat any potential discount we plan to offer as an expense. This allows us to compare the value of the discounts side by side with our other expenses.

We also consistently track if the discounts and promotions achieved their intended goals. It’s just common sense: This is the information we need to make smart business decisions that ensure our company’s long-term success.

Determining both the economic and social value of public expenditures is a no-brainer for our state legislature. Unfortunately, the vast majority of tax breaks on the books in Washington have never been reviewed to determine their value.

At a time when Washingtonians are suffering, our legislature should move to apply equal scrutiny to all state expenditures to determine the cost – and benefit – of each exemption.

Read more from the Billig’s column in the Spokesman-Review: Tax breaks need scrutiny »

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