Rivers asks Legislature to give Clark County sales tax rebate

Bill would give county a break because it's so close to Portland

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photoState Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center

OLYMPIA — The Senate’s Trade and Economic Development Committee got a double dose of Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, on Thursday morning as she testified on two bills related to taxes.

The first, Senate Bill 5325, would redefine Clark County as a rural county for the purposes of receiving a .09 percent sales tax return from the state. The second, Senate Bill 5529, would create a sales-tax holiday the second weekend in August for back-to-school shopping.

Both bills are sponsored by Rivers, and co-sponsored by Sens. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, and Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver. The bills also have companion legislation in the House.

If the bill to define Clark County as a rural county passed, the county’s residents would not notice a change in the amount of tax they pay, but more money would be given back to the county to be used for economic development, Rivers said.

Axel Swanson, senior policy analyst for the Board of County Commissioners, agreed with Rivers. He said that Clark County, more than any other county, is at a disadvantage because it borders a sales-tax-free state.

“We are different because we collect, on average, 40 percent less sales tax than comparable counties in the state,” Swanson said. “Help us be competitive with Portland, help us create the infrastructure we need for jobs.”

Swanson said he believes the original intent of the .09 percent tax return was to address the disadvantages faced by counties unable to generate sales tax revenue, a category which Clark County falls into.

Having Portland next door puts Clark County in a tough fiscal position, Rivers said. The tax return would be used to support infrastructure, various ports and local job creators in the county.

The bill could bring up to $7 million back into the county during the 2013-2015 state budget cycle, according to estimates provided by the state Department of Revenue.

State Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, introduced similar legislation in the House. His proposal, House Bill 1553, is co-sponsored by Reps. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver; Liz Pike, R-Camas; Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver; Brandon Vick, R-Vancouver; and Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver.

Sales Tax Holiday

The sales tax holiday bill also addresses funds being spent across the river instead of in Washington, especially during back-to-school shopping season.

“Imagine Black Friday, in August, and only in Oregon,” Rivers said. “That’s what our retailers experience (in Southwest Washington).”

The proposal would generate extra spending statewide and save consumers money, supporters said. During the second weekend in August, the state would waive sales tax for purchases of $100 or more on clothing and on purchases of $10 or more on school supplies.

“This provides an opportunity for our retailers in our state to employ more people, provide goods and services, and bring in more business so they can add more B&O sales tax to the state” Rivers concluded.

Charles Miller, a lobbyist for Macy’s, also testified in favor of the bill. Miller said Macy’s operates 37 stores and employs 4,600 people in Washington.

“We are for sales tax holidays because our store managers tell us that these holidays create excitement, which increase sales,” said Miller, who reportedly flew from St. Louis to testify.

Moeller, D-Vancouver, introduced similar legislation in his chamber, House Bill 1329. That proposal is co-sponsored by Reps. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver; Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama; Liz Pike, R-Camas; and Brandon Vick, R-Vancouver.

Columbian staff writer Stevie Mathieu contributed to this story.