A tax credit for working families and a tax break for newspapers

And a new roadblock emerges to vehicle pursuit reforms. Here’s what’s happening on Day 24 of the legislative session

NO CAPTION NECESSARY: Logo for the Cornfield Report by Jerry Cornfield. 20200112

2023 Washington Legislature, Day 24 of 105

Everett Herald political reporter Jerry Cornfield: jcornfield@heraldnet.com | @dospueblos

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OLYMPIA, Feb. 1, 2023 — It’s Wednesday. Welcome to a new month. And a new era.

Sign-ups begin today for the Working Families Tax Credit that will steer refunds of up to $1,200 to low-income individuals and families if they meet certain eligibility requirements.

This is significant. It’s been on lawmakers want-to-do list for darn near a generation. They and former governor Chris Gregoire put it on the books in 2008 but didn’t fund it. Then came a recession, the McCleary school funding case, divided government and a pandemic.

Finally, in the 2021 session, pretty much every lawmaker in the House and Senate said let’s do it. Roughly 420,000 taxpayers could receive rebates between $300 and $1,200 this year. Applicants must be at least 25 and under 65, and meet certain income thresholds.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the House Finance Committee discussed ways to hand out bigger checks to even more people. Democrats want anyone 18 and older as well as married couples who file separate tax returns to be able to apply. Those ideas drew lots of supportive comments.

Republican Rep. Drew Stokesbary, R-Auburn, offered House Bill 1000 to double the maximum refund to $2,400. He chose the amount arbitrarily to get a conversation going on the topic.

“Hopefully we go big,” he said.

A helping hand

A few folks around here are trying to keep printed newspapers from disappearing. As an ink-stained scribbler in this industry, there’s reason to welcome, and be wary of, such attention.

Senate Bill 5199 would eliminate the business and occupation tax paid by newspapers starting next year. Sweet deal. Better than us coming up with a special license plate to raise money.

Drafted by Sen. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah, it originally extended the tax-free offer to those gathering and disseminating information solely online as well. A fiscal note estimated 400 firms could qualify, costing the state about $3.8 million in the next budget cycle. Too big a number to get through the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

Mullet pared it back, axing those solely online operations. However, he added a twist to ensure online newspapers that had a print edition at any point since Jan. 1, 2008 can receive the benefit. He wanted to cover the Seattle Post-Intelligencer whose last print edition came out in March 2009. The amended version cleared a Senate panel last week. A companion bill could be voted out of the House Finance Committee Thursday.

As one who got his first byline and paycheck before a driver’s license, I see a potential optics concern.

This is Mullet’s second try for a tax break. Democrat Attorney General Bob Ferguson requested this year’s version. Ferguson could very well be campaigning for governor — and visiting editorial boards — when the benefits of tax break kick in. There may be no quid pro quo — but not everyone will believe that.

Another obstacle

Those trying to rewrite the state’s vehicle pursuit law may have run into a new roadblock, this time in the House.

Their bill to erase changes made in 2021 got a hearing Tuesday. So too did legislation to let a work group craft a model pursuit policy.

Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, is sponsoring the wait-for-now approach. He’s also chair of the House committee considering the bills. Letting experts sit around a table and figure it out is the most prudent course given all the contention on the issue, he reasoned.

“There’s just wide disagreement. It’s a challenge to try to legislate when we actually don’t even know what the facts are,” he said Tuesday. “I think in the heat of a politically charged session we might get it wrong again. We don’t want that mistake.”

His comments echo those of Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, chair of the Senate Law and Justice Committee. She won’t hold a hearing on a bill to make changes sought by law enforcement and civic leaders. A bill to write a model policy did get one, and could get advanced by her committee Thursday.

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