Rural tax break bill dies in the Senate

It would have brought $4M back to county

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photoSen. Ann Rivers

OLYMPIA — A bill that could have brought nearly $4 million in taxes back to Clark County each year won't pass this session.

The bill would have added Clark County to a list of rural counties that receive a sales and use tax credit from the state. The proposal was not voted out of the Senate Ways and Means Committee in time to meet Friday's bill deadline.

Senate Bill 5325's prime sponsor, Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, said she was disappointed by the bill's fate this session and said the state's economic climate contributed to its failure.

"I believe Southwest Washington has some very unique challenges, being a border county to a state without sales tax," she said. "It would be nice to have that extra money to kick-start our job creators."

Rivers said the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond, told her that to give Clark County extra cash would mean he would need to cut funds from somewhere else. Hill told Rivers passing the bill was "not the best course of action," she said.

"It didn't pass because we have a huge budget hole to fill, and every exemption makes a bigger hole," Rivers said.

Rivers, who also sits on the Ways and Means Committee, said the future of the bill next session is contingent on next year's revenue forecast. She also said that she hopes by next year, Clark County will recover from the recession enough that it won't need the money.

The bill would have generated an estimated $7.7 million for the county during the 2013-2015 budget cycle, according to the Department of Revenue.

Axel Swanson, senior policy analyst for Clark County, testified before the Legislature this session that the tax exemption would be a good investment for the state.

"The purpose behind it would be to grow the local economy and tax base," Swanson said by telephone on Monday. "It was an important bill for us and will remain one in the future."

Swanson said he believes the bill will do better next session.

"It's a year away, but in my experience with legislation, the more people that are comfortable with legislation, the better it will fare," he said.

The proposal's companion legislation, House Bill 1553, also missed the bill deadline.

Swanson said that Rivers and Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, sponsored the bills early and worked very closely with the county to try to get the legislation through.

"They helped us out and they really understood the regional importance," he said.

Both bills will be resubmitted at the beginning of the next legislative session.