Only tax relief for families in budget comes from Rivers bill

OLYMPIA… The only broad tax relief Washington residents are likely to see from a $15 billion budget surplus is an end to the sales tax on diapers – and the Democrat-controlled Legislature is offering that only because of legislation from Republican Sen. Ann Rivers.

Rivers, R-La Center, proposed making all diapers tax-free in 2021. Her legislation attracted bipartisan sponsorship but had gone nowhere until Friday, when she successfully proposed the tax exemption as an amendment to the Senate Democrats’ $5 billion update of the state’s 2021-23 operating budget. The exemption remained in the supplemental budget after it was modified and approved Saturday by the Democratic majority in the House.

“People are surprised to learn this exemption is worth around 35 million dollars each year, because that’s a big number – but it offers a sense of just how many families in our state will get to keep more of their money,” said Rivers, a member of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

“This is an example of the significant, broad-based, direct tax relief Republicans have called for all session long. At the same time, 35 million dollars is a tiny fraction of the surplus. It’s remarkable to realize our Democratic colleagues won’t support more than two tax exemptions, and the one with the farthest reach comes from a Republican, at the last minute. I’m disappointed that we can’t convince the majority to trust the people with more of that extra money, instead of keeping it in government’s hands.”

Before Friday’s Senate budget vote, the only tax relief being offered by Democrats was for the smallest of small businesses. Their plan also includes a one-year waiver of admission fees to fairs and parking fees at state parks and public lands. The tax exemption resulting from Rivers’ legislation has no end date.

“These are the same Democrats who adopted an unnecessary state income tax and needlessly jacked up the cellphone tax in 2021 – in the middle of a pandemic. I’m all for helping mom-and-pop businesses lower their costs, but now that there’s this huge surplus, the only other things the majority could come up with on its own are free fairs and free parking at parks?

“In many Puget Sound communities the sales-tax rate is above 10 percent. That means families with little ones can look forward to saving four or five bucks on a box of diapers, due to my amendment, which is money back in their pockets for them to use as they see fit. That’s real tax relief,” Rivers said.

“It’s disappointing that the Democrats won’t give serious consideration to more of the tax-relief ideas Republicans have proposed. They say they’re worried about having a strong reserve, yet they’re stashing billions of dollars in an account that is less protected than the constitutional rainy-day fund. That doesn’t add up.”

Rivers expects Senate Bill 5309 will now be approved by the Legislature, to support her budget amendment. The Senate Ways and Means Committee endorsed the bill Monday evening.