Inside Opinion

What's on the minds of Tacoma News Tribune editorial writers

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Tag: sales tax


On Cyber Monday, states lose millions in sales tax

This editorial will appear in Monday’s print edition.

If you’re like millions of other Americans, you’ll spend some time today hiding your computer screen from your boss. It’s not a good idea to be caught shopping on company time, after all.

Yes, today is Cyber Monday, one of the busiest online shopping days of the year. Shoppers will be searching for the bargains they weren’t willing to brave the Black Friday hordes to find. And many of them will be attracted to the lower prices online sellers are often able to offer because they don’t charge sales tax that brick-and-mortar stores must collect.

But when millions of Americans avoid sales taxes by getting their bargains online, they’re cheating their communities and states out of desperately needed tax revenue – revenue that pays for such things as roads, public safety, education and infrastructure. Read more »


Pierce Transit must regroup, rethink after Prop. 1 defeat

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

Now that voters have rejected a permanent sales tax increase for Pierce Transit, what’s Plan B?

In the runup to the Nov. 6 election, the agency said that if Proposition 1 failed, it would have to cut weekend and evening service (after 7 p.m.) – on top of cuts that already have been made. From early spring 2014 to 2017, service hours would be cut from 419,000 to 197,000. Shuttle service for the elderly and disabled, which has been reduced significantly already, would be cut back even more.

The agency must revisit that Doomsday scenario. If Pierce Transit winds up squeezing its runs that radically, its usefulness as a regional transit agency will be radically diminished.
Read more »


Mental health sales tax: Tell Tacoma what it’s buying

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

The Tacoma City Council is moving quietly and quickly toward an increase in the city’s sales tax. It ought to be moving noisily and slowly.

The tenth-of-a-percent tax, which the council could enact Tuesday, is expected to bring in $2.6 million in 2013 and rising amounts thereafter.

It wouldn’t be a lot at the checkout counter – just a penny on a $10 purchase. Its intentions are good: preserving or expanding programs that improve mental health and reduce addiction. But it is a tax, and it needs more public discussion than it’s gotten so far.

One concern is that the council has no clear plan for spending much of the money. Instead of first identifying priorities, then collecting the tax, city officials want to get the tax on the books ASAP. Then they will launch a process to decide how it gets spent.

The haste is driven by desperation. Past councils and administrations have saddled the city with a scary revenue shortfall that threatens deep cuts to police and fire protection, and other vital public services. City funding for human services – homelessness and mental health programs among them – is endangered.

Half of the new tax – $1.3 million a year – could be used initially to replace existing funding for such programs. If the council moves quickly enough ­– by the end of March – it could start collecting the money this July.

Hence the rush. If the schedule slips past this month, collections would slip to October.
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New tax – or wrecking ball for schools and colleges?

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

One question for the people accusing Gov. Chris Gregoire of grabbing for new taxes instead of downsizing state government:

Where on Earth have you been for the last three years?

Faced with the worst fiscal crisis in a lifetime, she and the Legislature have been paring state services relentlessly.

The K-12 system has been squeezed. Washington’s public colleges have lost a third to a half of their state funding, depending on the school. Health insurance for the poor has been nearly strangled. Many state employees have had wages cut or been laid off. State agencies – large and small – have been turned upside down and had the change shaken out of their pockets.

Even assuming Gregoire got her half-percent sales tax increase, her plan would still inflict brutal new cuts on state social services. Tax increase or no tax increase, her budget kisses off health coverage for 55,000 poor people, for example. Much of the state safety net would be gone one way or another.

She’s proposing the half-cent sales tax – and several smaller increases – to prevent the additional loss of funding for property-poor school districts, another devastating hit to public colleges and the early release of felons, among other things.

Neither the governor nor the Legislature can raise taxes unilaterally; they must get approval from the electorate. If the ultimate choice is between new revenues and further damage to public education, the public ought to be given the chance to make that decision.
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Any new state tax must spare economy, satisfy voters

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Some Democrats are whispering the T-word – taxes – as falling state revenues threaten public education and human services that are helping the poor, the sick and abused keep their heads above water.

It’s a conversation that must happen. The September revenue forecast blew a $2 billion hole in what was already a bleak biennial budget. On the chopping block, potentially, is funding for community colleges and state universities that have already been savagely whacked, property-poor school districts and community supervision of dangerous felons.

Thousands of children, domestic violence victims and

Read more »


Hit delete button on unfair online sales-tax break

This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.

It sounds counterintuitive, but is pushing for a national online sales tax law.

There’s method to this apparent madness: The giant online retailer would rather deal with one consistent law than an increasing number of state laws like the one it’s been fighting in California. There state lawmakers have agreed to delay efforts to force to collect the state’s sales tax in order to give the company and other online retailers a chance to lobby Congress for a national policy.

Currently, online and mail-order sellers have to collect sales tax only in states where they have a physical presence. That’s why the Seattle-based collects sales tax from Washington residents.
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Come back, Pierce Transit, with a tighter Plan B

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

As they’re eyeing the sales tax increase Pierce Transit wants them to approve on Feb. 8, voters should understand that this is not a last-chance proposition.

The measure’s supporters say its failure would result in a devastating 35 percent cut in bus and van service. Maybe, maybe not.

The fact is, Pierce Transit has enough cash in reserve to buy the time it needs to return to the ballot with a more realistic proposal. We think the voters ought to wait for a less expensive Plan B – and Pierce Transit ought to give them one.

Let’s acknowledge up front that mass transit is an essential public service. It gets people with disabilities or low income to jobs, doctors’ offices and stores. When people of higher income take buses instead of driving their own cars, transit takes traffic off the road and keeps pollution out of the air.

Those who believe that transit has a paramount claim on the available sales tax – in a dire economic climate – ought to vote for Proposition 1.

In our view, Pierce Transit has not yet fully grasped the fact that this downsized economy demands doing more with less.

Its board and administrators are asking for a 0.3 percent addition to the 0.6 percent sales tax it already collects in Pierce County, which would translate into a $30 million-a-year, 50 percent increase in revenue. That would max out its potential taxing authority; the idea is to offset the decline in sales tax revenue it has suffered since the recession began in late 2007.

Pierce Transit in effect is asking taxpayers to largely insulate it against the harsh economic realities that are forcing other organizations to ruthlessly cut expenses and reinvent themselves in order to survive.

The agency has imposed some economies on itself, including a substantial squeezing of its administrative costs. But its employee compensation packages – by far the largest part of its budget – bear no relationship to reality. Its standard health plan falls into the “Cadillac” category, and most of its workers have enjoyed generous pay increases right on through the worst economy in 60 years.
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Pierce Transit’s all-or-nothing approach is flawed

This editorial will appear in Wednesday’s print edition.

Pierce Transit is in a bind – one partly of its own making.

The agency has heard from riders who won’t be able to get to work or to doctor’s appointments if bus service takes the brunt of a recessionary beating.

It has heard from small cities threatening to walk if service to outlying areas is sacrificed to preserve urban routes and frequency. It has heard from taxpayers who balk at paying more to support Pierce Transit in the manner to which it had become accustomed.

Now the agency’s board of commissioners must decide: Does Pierce Transit go hat in hand to voters or does it resize the agency to make do?

The options, as portrayed to the public, are stark: A 50 percent increase in Pierce Transit’s sales tax or a 43 percent reduction of service. Some choice.

Some false choice, to be more blunt.

Read more »