Business Columns & Blogs

Gift wish lists grow longer from local, state entities

It’s the holiday shopping season, so the air is filled metaphorically and literally with the sound of ringing cash registers.

In the midst of chasing bargains and finding just the right gifts, you might want to give some thought and set aside a little budget space — or a lot — for those certain special someones who are on your list, whether you want them there or not.

You know — your government.

Because like it or not, this is shaping up to be a very expensive shopping season for you.

Some of your gift recipients are being a bit coy about what they want. “Oh, you don’t need to get me anything,” says the Port of Tacoma, demurely but knowing full well that you will. It wants a shiny new Seaport Alliance — a gift to be shared with the Port of Seattle. And even though it says it won’t ask you for any more money to buy it — technically true because the port isn’t increasing its property-tax levy rate — it also knows you’ll be giving it more, thanks to increased property values against which that levy is assessed (as reported recently by the TNT).

Others, on the other hand, are making their intentions plain, like a child frenetically circling every toy in the catalog. In order to buy it more track and cars for its light-rail train, Sound Transit is considering not just a sales tax increase or a property tax increase or a motor vehicle excise tax increase, but all three.

Still others are so indecisive that they may not know what they want until well after Christmas. Into that category would fall the governor, the Legislature and the Supreme Court.

The governor really wants a climate-change agenda, but he hasn’t specified exactly what size, shape or color it’ll come in or what accessories come with it — cap-and-trade, a carbon tax perhaps? Whatever the specs, he’s insisting it’s the gift that will not only pay for itself but all the other stuff on people’s list.

That would be welcome news for legislators who want more roads, which they believe they can pay for with a gas tax. They’d particularly like an increase in their weekly allowance, since it appears, according to the latest projections of spending and revenue, the state is likely to spend a few billion dollars more than it takes in.

The court, meanwhile, has a very specific idea of what the state should be buying but has been vague on how much it should spend. “We’re thinking of a number,” the justices say. When legislators have played along and guessed what that number might be, the justices have responded, “Nope, that’s not it. Try again — and higher.” (Of course, the voters didn’t help by promising smaller classrooms without getting into the bothersome details of how those were to be paid for).

If you’re a business owner or manager, your shopping list just got longer and more expensive. The minimum wage gets an inflation-adjusted boost in January, and that’s without whatever municipalities decide to do on going higher still (it’ll be a major topic of debate in Tacoma in 2015). Worker’s comp rates are going up, but at least not (on average) as much as was originally proposed. We’ll find out next month if there’s an unemployment compensation increase coming.

Some municipalities have already been told no in response to their request, such as the tax proposals that voters in Eatonville and University Place turned down in November. But 2015 is another year, with another set of elections and another opportunity for counties, municipalities and all manner of quasi-governmental entities to come to voters with their own wish list.

Since this is the season of traditions, allow us to indulge in one of our own rituals, voicing a complaint about taxes, performed every time the subject comes up. It’s this — no one coordinates or tallies up the cumulative effect of these requests, not the people asking for it, often not even the people paying it.

Taxation is rarely not an issue, but it’s going to be a particularly contentious issue in 2015 because of a collision of multiple factors and trends — the number of increases coming at a time of stagnant income growth and sluggish economic recovery (if indeed your job, company or industry is among those done with the recession). It’s enough to make the populace start muttering, “What do we look like, Santa Claus?”

Ho ho ho, indeed.

Bill Virgin is editor and publisher of Washington Manufacturing Alert and Pacific Northwest Rail News. He can be reached at bill.virgin@yahoo.com.

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