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Pandemic-related relief tops state budget priority list

by By Patric Haerle, WNPA News Service
| January 11, 2021 1:00 AM

OLYMPIA — Desperately needed COVID-19 relief is a top priority for this year’s state Legislature, and Republicans and Democrats generally agree it will be necessary to get that aid out as soon as possible.

The parties are split, however, when it comes to increasing some taxes to erase a revenue shortfall.

House Speaker Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, outlined on Thursday some of the early economic relief Democrats have lined up. This included at least $300 million for rental and utility assistance; $120 million for business assistance grants; and $25 million for food assistance. She said they want to reduce state taxes on pandemic emergency Paycheck Protection Program federal funds, currently subject to the state Business & Occupation tax, and waive property fees and lower property tax rates for businesses.

She also said they would propose tapping the state’s rainy-day funds to help pay for the proposals.

“We’re in rainy days,” she said.

Gov. Jay Inslee said he proposes lowering unemployment insurance taxes for small businesses and financing the working families tax credit with a new capital gains tax. He said the governor’s office projects that less than 2% of the state’s population would be affected by the increase. He said he favors that option over increasing existing taxes.

“We have so much work to do ahead of us when we’re talking about rental assistance and we’re talking about small business loans,” said Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond. “We’re talking about the homelessness issue, the eviction moratorium being lifted. We haven’t even started talking about a foster care situation that was already struggling,” Dhingra said. “And we have police accountability issues to deal with. All of those cost money. We can write pretty words on a piece of paper and pass them, but if you really want to help people, you have to put the dollars behind those words.”

Sen. Shelly Short, R-Addy, said she is sympathetic to the many obvious needs facing Washington but the Legislature needs to carefully weigh adding new taxes.

“We are learning a lot about the needs and the things that we have before us,” Short said, “but the last thing we should be doing is raising taxes on our family-owned businesses and our job creators in the state of Washington. The fastest way we can get people back on their feet is to get them their jobs back,” Short said.