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Senate Democrats: End tax breaks for chickens, cattle, others

Post by Jordan Schrader / The News Tribune on April 14, 2011 at 6:06 pm | No Comments »
April 14, 2011 6:18 pm

Save state programs from budget cuts by ending tax breaks for sales of chicken bedding and bull semen.

That’s the idea of a bill introduced today by Sen. Tracey Eide of Federal Way, who says programs in the state safety net should “outweigh the chickens.”

“We don’t provide bedding for our children, yet we provide bedding for chickens,” Eide said at a press conference where she and other Senate Democrats introduced a slew of proposals to close tax exemptions – alternatives to the deep cuts in the budget unveiled by their majority party and minority Republicans on Tuesday.

Her bill would end exemptions to the sales tax for bedding and heating fuel for chicken coops and for sales of semen for artificial insemination of livestock. That raises a healthy $2.5 million, but it pales in comparison to the $338 million that Sen. Phil Rockefeller of Bainbridge Island proposes raising by exempting large banks from a tax break on mortgage interest and  slicing 25 percent off of all “preferential” business tax rates for everything from the timber industry to the aerospace industry.

The proposals come with certain opposition from a slew of business interests from banks, to companies like Weyerhaeuser and Boeing, to the farmers who say it’s double taxation to tax both their “finished product” — the food they produce — and the “ingredients” that go into the finished product.

It’s hard to see how these proposals might move forward. It’s not just that Republicans are likely to deny supporters the two-thirds majorities they need under voter-imposed rules. It’s also that they will be hard-pressed to convince enough fellow Democrats to reach the simple majorities needed to send the proposals to voters in November. Efforts to kill some of these same tax breaks last year failed over Democrats’ opposition.

But another idea being pushed by Senate budget chairman Ed Murray could help them out. It would ask voters to let the Legislature close tax exemptions with a simple majority instead of a supermajority. General tax increases would still require the higher threshold.

Republicans today — and Murray himself on Tuesday — pointed out that some of the very Democrats who are vocally pushing to close tax breaks also are asking for new tax breaks.

Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles of Seattle is among those. She denied at today’s news conference that she is seeking any new tax breaks, but later said she had forgotten about her proposed exemption for zoos and aquariums, which she says is now dead. And she said her bill to renew a tax credit for the film industry doesn’t fall into that category because it’s a renewal, not a new tax break.

But she added in an e-mail: “It’s not that tax exemptions/preferences/credits are inherently bad or problematic, but that we need to determine which are effective and which are not, even if they served an important public policy and brought in new revenue, etc. when they were created.”

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