Northwest NEWS

April 26, 1999


Who's really behind reduction of vehicle tabs?

   A couple of weeks ago a letter in this column suggested we sign and vote for the initiative to reduce the motor vehicle excise tax charged with tabs to $30. I agree this seems attractive, but a perspective on Washington's totally dysfunctional tax scheme is helpful in analyzing its elements.

   Living in a growth area is an expensive proposition, regardless of where it is. I was born and raised in King County, so I have the hometown view, I admit. The same pressures that bring people and jobs here add to our traffic congestion, and also the need for more infrastructure (schools, roads, fire, and police protection).

   We are in the apex of this cycle, because we continually need more support people, who need the same housing, roads, etc. One cannot exist without the other, except in a dream world.

   Washington state has a very fragmented tax system. The parts that bear the taxes are the weak links in political leverage. We don't have an income tax because it would impact such heavyweights as Boeing, Weyerhauser, and a few others. Agriculture is largely untaxed in Washington state.

   Conceptually, there are three valid measures of an entity's (company, individual, or family) ability to fund tax supported infrastructure: no. 1--the amount of revenue coming in the door periodically (income tax); no. 2--the value of the property you own (property taxes); and no. 3--the amount you consume (sales tax). These are all equally valid measures, but here in Washington, only two are tax objects for individuals. For businesses, the B&O tax (very selectively, at an astoundingly low rate) catches revenue for those firms and occupations that are covered; not all are.

   My point is that as long as we have an unbalanced system, pressures will gravitate toward those with the greatest pain. Once their problem is patched, somebody else gets the monkey.

   What the letter writer didn't write about is that the greatest beneficiaries of the proposal she advances would be the United Parcels, Fed-Ex's, and other truckers with those heavy road hogs in the state. Are they the real proponents behind this?

Anders Tronsen, Carnation