Rivers says public hearing on Senate minority’s $38 billion tax package ‘fits right in’ with majority coalition’s commitment to cooperation

Sen. Ann Rivers knows it was unusual for the Senate Ways and Means Committee to devote its entire meeting Thursday to a discussion of tax-increase bills that she and a majority of the committee members don’t support. Then again, as Rivers points out, she and the other Majority Coalition Caucus members who are leading the Senate this year don’t feel particularly bound by tradition.Sen. Ann Rivers, R-18

“Our bipartisan coalition made some fundamental changes in how the Senate operates, in the interests of encouraging a more cooperative climate. Yesterday’s hearing fits right in with that,” said Rivers, R-La Center.

“It’s clear that the Senate minority leader and others on his side want state government to have even more tax dollars to spend,” Rivers said. “I couldn’t disagree more; however, if they think a 10-year, $38 billion tax package makes sense, even if it would financially crush hard-working families and those who we rely on for jobs, I was willing to listen to the attempts to justify it.”

Rivers also said the hearing highlighted one of the starker differences between the Majority Coalition Caucus and the Senate minority leadership.

“Our coalition believes Olympia should and can live within its means. We see reforming state government as a way to free up revenue and make it available for more important uses,” she said. “These bills reveal a lot about the direction the minority would have gone if it still was in charge of the Senate. It sure makes you wonder: Do they think the answer to everything is ‘more taxes’?”

The tax bills that came before Rivers and other Senate Ways and Means Committee members included:

  • Senate Bill 5166, which would create a state income tax (an idea voters have rejected nine times before) to the tune of more than $32 billion in the next 10 years;
  • Senate Bill 5039, which would amount to almost $5 billion in the next decade by extending two taxes that are set to expire this year (sales tax on beer, business and occupation tax on services) plus a new excise tax on gasoline distribution;
  • Senate Bill 5042, which would increase the business and occupation tax on Washington job creators equal to more than $400 million in the next 10 years; and
  • Senate Bill 5248, which would be a $134 million (over 10 years) tax on plastic shopping bags.

The committee also heard testimony on Senate Bill 5043, which would pare the property-tax exemption for intangibles. The cost to taxpayers hasn’t been calculated for 2013; it was estimated in 2011 that taxpayers saved $12.8 billion related to the exemption.

Rivers said Thursday’s discussion may serve as a preview of the arguments that will be made by Senate minority members several weeks from now, when the Senate’s proposed state operating budget will likely be ready for a final vote.

“We may very well see these ideas again, proposed as amendments to the Senate budget. Hearing the arguments from the sponsors yesterday will only make it easier to rebut them when it’s budget-debating time,” Rivers said.