Clark County’s three main business groups rolled out their legislative wish list to the county’s legislative delegation Friday at the 2019 Legislative Outlook Breakfast, including investments in broadband and other infrastructure projects in the area.
But business leaders also used the annual event held at WareHouse ’23 to press area legislators on what they don’t want: tax increases.
Earlier this week, Gov. Jay Inslee rolled out his proposed $54.4 billion two-year budget, which includes increases in the business and occupation tax from 1.5 percent to 2.5 percent and a 9 percent capital gains tax on earnings from the sale of stocks and bonds above $25,000 for individuals.
Inslee has justified the tax hikes to fund a 20 percent increase in spending that he said is necessary to maintain government services while supporting new initiatives on mental health, salmon and orca recovery, among others.
The priorities prepared by the Columbia River Economic Development Council, the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce and Identity Clark County are asking that the business and occupation tax rate for manufacturing be lowered, not raised. They’re also asking the Legislature, which reconvenes next month, to reinstate a research-and-development tax credit and an extension of the aerospace manufacturing tax rate to all manufacturing businesses.
During the forum, which touched on a wide array of topics, Clark County Republican legislators (as well as state Rep.-elect Larry Hoff) weren’t receptive to tax increases.
“I fear the business community will be on the defense this year,” said Max Ault, the interim president of the Columbia River Economic Development Council, reading from a letter from Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, who is undergoing cancer treatment and was unable to attend. In her letter, Wilson wrote that with the state seeing ample revenue it should instead “check spending.”
Rep. Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver, appeared sympathetic to the local business community’s tax policy agenda, saying that it spoke to the “dysfunction of our current tax policy.” She said the current tax structure doesn’t advance the state’s economic goals and is unfavorable to manufacturing businesses, which she said is an underappreciated part of the state’s economy. She also mentioned that she would have a hand in crafting tax policy with a position on the House Finance Committee.
“Don’t panic,” she told the room full of business and elected officials. “It’ll take a lot of votes to get any of them through, and nobody likes raising taxes, including myself.”
The business groups are asking for funding for job and science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, education in Clark County. They’ve also included capital requests, such as $43.5 million to fund the Clark College Advanced Manufacturing Center and Boschma Farms and $25.8 million for the modernization of Cascadia Technical Academy, among others.
Wylie said she was optimistic about how Clark County will fare in the next legislative session. She pointed to new leadership and new energy in the Legislature. She also said that some “big projects up north” are being completed and that the cohesiveness of the county’s legislative delegation will help advance its priorities.
“And also because we are another part of the economic engine of the state,” she said.
During the forum, state Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver, mentioned she was working on legislation aimed at boosting graduation, and to partner schools with businesses in order to connect students with careers.
The legislative priorities of the business groups include a request that environmental regulations not hurt the competitiveness of area businesses. State Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, said he was “very concerned” about Clark Public Utilities. He said it’s the largest gas-fired power plant in the state, and he said he will work to protect it as a source an affordable source of power that he also considers “clean.”