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Posts tagged as “Washington”

How Washington is income tax-less

A good summation of Washington's troubled relationship with the income tax in today's Peter Callaghan column in the Tacoma News Tribune.

And why Washington still operates, essentially, on a tax system developed in the middle of the Great Depression.

The idea of a limited income tax - on only those with $500,000-a-year and up income - still seems to be gaining some traction this year. But the obstacles it faces turn up neatly in this anecdote from Callaghan:

"Take the case of Glenn Pascall, a very smart guy who was then-Gov. John Spellman’s Department of Revenue director. It was the first week of the 1982 session and the state was considering how to get out of yet-another deep budget hole. Pascall told a legislative committee that everything was on the table and that the income tax is no longer 'an idea which is doomed to fail. It is one unpopular option in a range of unpopular options.' The next day, Spellman convened a press conference:'I have not considered an income tax. We are not considering an income tax. And Mr. Pascall has resigned.'”

A non-starter, or a game-changer

KohlWelles

Jeanne Kohl-Welles

Everybody has their legislative non-starters - among those issues a lot of people talk about with some seriousness. In Oregon, the sale tax. In Washington, the income tax.

Or . . . suppose you structured the tax so it would apply only to a small minority, but still raise a bunch of money? Is there a calculus under which (especially in hard times) the unthinkable becomes thinkable?

So now, introduced as of today, we have in Washington a proposal for an income tax, usually considered a poisonous third-rail subject. Democrats are proposing Senate Bill 6147, and Republicans are going to pounce (actually, take the future tense out of that).

Here's the twist: It would only apply about 1% of Washingtonians (those earning a half-million dollars a year or more for individuals, with the bar higher in some other cases) and would be set at a relatively low level - 1%. Easy to grasp.

It has backing from majority Democrats; the key sponsor is Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, along with six others. Majority leadership doesn't seem to be dousing the idea. It carries a trap door: Legislators wouldn't give themselves a final sayt; the idea would go to the voters for an up or down.

The specific statement of intent in the bill says, "It is the intent of the legislature in adopting this title to provide the necessary revenues for the support of vital state services on a more stable and equitable basis." But that's not its real political engine. What could make this possible is the specific populist environment of the moment: Go ahead and tax the rich. As matters sit, in this case, a number of Washingtonians usually unwilling to budge on the income tax might be tempted. Republicans will argue this is an entre to something larger, and they could be right. But for the moment, the ballot issue is what it is. (If it ultimately is.)

There's something much broader going on here than a typical question of tax policy. This will bear close watching.

And still more troubled banks

We're not done with the troubled-bank story yet. A Seattle Times analysis today by Drew DeSilver says that "At least a dozen of the 52 Washington-based banks examined are carrying heavy loads of past-due loans, defaults and foreclosed properties relative to their financial resources. Many of these banks have set aside relatively little cash to cover problem loans, the analysis shows."

The banks cited include Anchor Mutual Savings Bank at Aberdeen, Horizon Bank at Bellingham, Evergreen Bank at Seattle, and Venture Bank at Lacey. But there are others too. (Interesting that the overlap with the list of federal stabilizing funds recipients doesn't seem to overlap much.)

There's also an interactive chart showing where the banks sit according to a number of measures of stability. With the caveat that no single set of numbers are solid indicators, the eye naturally goes nonetheless to the comprehensive risk ratio, which (roughly) indicates how bad assets stack up against good ones. You see there why some of the aforementioned banks get some of the attention they do. Westsound of Bremerton has the highest CRR at 282.5%; Venture at Lacey is at 172%; City Bank at Lynnwood at 171%; Frontier Bank at Everett at 126%; Shoreline Bank at Shoreline at 120%; Seattle Savings Bank at 117%; Horizon Bank at Bellingham at 110%; North County Bank at Arliington at 103%.

None of this is totally current; most of the information seems to be as-of the end of last year. But it gives you an idea of what headlines might be emerging in the months ahead.

Economy getting you down?

Well, the Olympian has a remedy, more or less.

Try this video from Olympian reporter Adam Wilson. Maybe the funniest take we've seen lately on the local state of the economy. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll cringe . . .

The biggest shifts

The presidential elections of 2004 and 2008 obviously had different partisan results, but they also registered distinctly different partisan numbers - a shift from Republicans to Democrats, nationwide, of about 10%. The only significant Republican percentage increases in the presidential were in Alaska (the biggest by far, at 26%), Arkansas, Louisiana and Tenneesee, plus sliver improvements in Oklahoma and West Virginia. The other 45 states, including those which voted Republican both times (such as Idaho), all moved in the Democratic direction.

The Center for American Progress has put together a map on this, showing in the Northwest that Democrats made the largest presidential-level gains in Idaho (13%), closely followed by Oregon (12%) and Washington (10%).

In Washington state, 18 counties (of 39) registered a Democratic shift of more than 10%. The largest shift was in one of the most Republican counties in the state, Chelan County just east of the Cascades, at 15%.

In Oregon, 24 counties of the 36 shifted 10% or more. The highest shift there was in Washington County, at 16% - seemingly a continuation of a general trend in that county.

In Idaho, 21 counties (of 44) shifted 10% or more. As in the other states, most were just above the 10% mark, but one of them - Teton County - registered the largest shift in the whole region, at 23%, as well as the second highest, Power County at 18%. Those are both small counties, but also of interest were the shifts in the two largest counties in the state - Ada (17%) and Canyon (16%).

None of the 119 counties in the Northwest shifted Republican in that pair of presidentials.

A tale of two bonds

spokane schools

From the Spokane School District 81 website

Those into parsing the details of election returns will want to turn toward a post on the Spokane Spokesman-Review Spin Control blog, which gets into the distinctive results of two March 10 public bonding votes in Spokane. One (the larger) passed, the other failed. The votes weren't close.

In fact, the one that passed, a $288 million school bond, was estimated at 15 times larger than the city of Spokane bond, which failed.

Why that result? Reporter Jim Camden points to a much larger campaign budget for the school bond than for the city's - $145,000 to $6,600 - and more sophistication on the part of the school campaign. But there was also this: "the city bond issue was for a fairly amorphous set of projects, such as an evidence warehouse, some new courtrooms, an expansion of an animal shelter. The District 81 bond issue was for specific schools, and the approval margin is significantly higher in the neighborhoods around those schools, presumably because parents who live there know what needs to be done to their kids’ classrooms."

The outlier

When it comes to voting in Washington state, the peculiar county is not oft-maligned King, but rather Pierce County - the only one of 39 where voting at physical polls can still be done. (Mail voting is optional.) All others vote, as Oregon does, by mail.

The Washington House has now passed - on a close vote, 54-43 - House Bill 1572, which would convert Washington to an all-mail-vote state, and do two other things: "Changes precinct sizes to not more than 2,000 active registered voters effective 2012. Allows the appointment of four precinct committee officers in precincts that have 2,000 or more active registered voters."

The Pierce County delegation was split, by the way. And the Tacoma News Tribune has an amusing sidelight: "George Walk, Pierce County lobbyist, told me that earlier this session he had to testify both for and against the bill when it was in committee. County Executive Pat McCarthy was in favor of all-mail voting (she’s the former election chief for the county) but the County Council was against it."

It's in the Senate Government Operations & Elections Committee now, awaiting action there.

Definition

At the end of a Horse's Ass post on the failure of a piece of consumer protection legislation in the Washington legislature - it may be dominated by Democrats, who are presumed to be in favor of such measures, but this outcome is hardly unusual there - blogger Jon DeVore came up with a priceless definition of Democrats:

". . . a circular firing squad of cats who won’t be herded towards a gun safety class where free tuna is being served."

Death/dignity/details

The Washington Death with Dignity (or, assisted suicide) initiative takes effect today, and a reader suggested we take a look at a web site packed with information about the new law and how it works. We did, and we'll recommend it, too.

It is called Compassion and Choices, and it offers a multi-media look at the law, and what it is and isn't. (It isn't, for example, nearly as sweeping as a lot of people probably imagine it is; only a small group of people have ever used it in the decade the nearly identical measure has been on the books in Oregon.) If you're interested in the subject at all, this is worth a look.