SEIU aims for repeal of sales tax break

Union starts petition drive to make people from out of state pay

By Kathie Durbin, Columbian staff writer

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Service Employees International Union, one of the state’s largest and most politically active unions, has begun gathering signatures on an initiative that would repeal the state sales tax exemption for out-of-state residents. The campaign’s launch comes just days after the House of Representatives abandoned an attempt to do away with the tax break.

A lone initiative petition signature-gatherer was spotted Friday at a Walmart store in Lacey, according to the Washington State Wire, an Olympia-based business news service.

Adam Glickman, vice president of SEIU Healthcare 775NW, which represents all of the state’s 40,000 home health care workers, said the union was “just testing the water” and had made no decision on whether to launch a full-scale effort to put the measure on the November ballot.

According to Washington Public Disclosure Commission filings, the union has transferred $500,000 into an account dedicated to passing the measure, Initiative 1167. Glickman said in an email that ending the exemption, which is popular among Vancouver retail businesses, would yield an estimated $66 million per biennium to fund training programs for home-care workers.

The initiative would eliminate the tax break for residents of Alaska, Oregon, Montana and the Canadian province of Alberta on purchases made in Washington. It would also impose the sales tax on bill collectors.

Last week, a coalition of Southwest Washington business leaders wrote an open letter to legislators urging them to retain the tax break for out-of-state residents, noting that some local companies get 18 to 25 percent of their business from Oregon.

Revenue collected under I-1167 would be dedicated to restoring funding for state training of long-term care workers that was cut from the budget by the Legislature in December. The state-funded training was authorized by voters under a 2008 initiative.

Glickman said the union is also considering an initiative that would simply reinstate the voter-approved training, certification and criminal background check provisions of the 2008 initiative.

“Our final decision will depend on how deeply the Legislature shreds the long-term care safety net for vulnerable seniors and people with disabilities and how disproportionately they slash benefits for home care workers,” he said in an email. Thousands of SEIU members face not only a 10 percent reduction in hours and pay but also elimination of affordable health benefits, he said.

“We think it’s a basic issue of fairness,” Glickman said. “Washington residents pay as much as a 10 percent sales tax, and at a time when we’re slashing services for the most vulnerable, it doesn’t make any sense to give a tax break to out-of-state residents.”