Wylie talks revenue reform with local crowd

State representative says current model is not sustainable

By Patty Hastings, Columbian breaking news reporter

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State Rep. Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver, led a discussion on revenue reform Thursday night at the Vancouver Community Library, and several local residents and small business owners showed up to voice their concerns.

"We have a volatile and pretty unsustainable system right now," Wylie said of Washington's current tax system. The state relies on revenues from sales tax, and with a growing aging population that spends less, this model can't last long, she said.

Wylie joined a group of freshman legislators and the Washington State Budget and Policy Center, a nonprofit, nonpartisan tax research organization, to detail the tax system's impact and offer potential long-term solutions. This is her first community discussion on revenue reform, with two others planned for Tacoma and Shoreline.

She said changes in tax policies start with sharing information and having conversations about what Washingtonians want and need out of their tax system.

"What values do we want to express with how we spend our state resources in the future?" Wylie asked.

Washington policy analyst Michael Mitchell presented a slide show outlining state revenue shortfalls. Sales tax revenues are deeply depressed, he said, with greater shortfalls projected over the next several years.

"Revenues have not been able to keep pace with rising need," he said, calling the current system inadequate, backwards, unstable and lacking transparency.

Audience members lamented the confusing language of the two state advisory votes on the November ballot, which both addressed taxes. They urged Wylie to press for more clarity when it comes to presenting voter issues.

Several small business owners chipped in their ideas and talked about how the local business landscape is suffering.

"We're dying on the vine here, whether we want to admit it or not," said Victoria Dain, 63, who ran an insurance enrollment business and trade show marketing business before retiring. She said that the majority of small businesses are actually micro businesses with just a handful of employees. These businesses are affected differently by taxes and tax policy changes than their larger counterparts.

Some ideas for reform included taxing capital gains, taxing online purchases, taxing Oregonians who buy goods in Washington and taxing services. (Currently, when you buy a DVD from Target, the purchase is taxed, but when you buy a movie ticket at the theater, it's not taxed). Wylie added that she is not an advocate of state income tax.

Wylie plans to change and update the presentation based on community feedback and present it to the Vancouver Chamber of Commerce, along with other business leaders.

"This is kind of an experiment," she said.