Unless somebody’s entire familiarity with Clark County consists of visits to, say, Yacolt or Amboy, it might be difficult to convince them that Clark County qualifies as rural. Yet county officials are hoping to dip into the state’s cauldron of sales-tax money that is reserved for sparsely populated counties.
A program in place since 1999 allows each Washington county defined as “rural” to receive a rebate from the state sales tax collected in that county. The state sales tax — not counting add-ons from cities or counties — is 6.5 percent. The rebate program, according to an article in The Columbian by Erik Hidle, returns 0.09 percent of sales to the counties in an effort to assist economically challenged rural areas.
Considering that Clark County has well over 400,000 people and is considered part of the Portland metropolitan area, defining it as rural might be a stretch. So officials are trying a different tack, hoping to redefine the law to include rural counties or, “any county that borders a state without a sales tax.”
Aye, there’s the rub. Every other county that borders Oregon — which does not charge sales tax — qualifies as rural and already collects money from the program. Idaho has a state sales tax, eliminating counties along Washington’s eastern border from a change in the law. That makes Clark County a lone wolf, the only county that would benefit from such a change.
And why not?
By virtue of being across the river from Portland, Clark County falls victim to the “Grass is greener” hypothesis. Local residents often are drawn to Oregon stores that don’t charge sales tax — and drawn away from Clark County retailers, forcing businesses into a tenuous situation. Anybody who has walked through the parking lot at Jantzen Beach SuperCenter and taken a look at the license plates might conclude that they are still in Washington.