WA voters open to cutting some tax breaks, poll finds




Posted on May 9, 2011 at 5:10 PM

Updated Monday, May 9 at 5:47 PM

SEATTLE -- A new KING 5 News poll finds voters might be open to getting rid of some tax breaks.

One of the more obscure tax breaks comes when farmers buy wood shavings or straw for chicken bedding, or when they buy propane or natural gas to keep chickens warm. The state doesn't charge them sales tax.

"Now, we do not provide blankets to our children. We don't provide heating for homes and the other thing is, last time I looked, chickens have feathers," said Sen. Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way.

Eide says this is one tax exemption that can easily go. But ten years ago, the chicken exemption was created to help Washington farmers compete with other states. Eide was one of the senators who actually voted for it.

So goes the story behind hundreds of tax exemptions. There's a reason behind each one.

You probably don't think much about it, but when you buy groceries, there's no sales tax on most food. That's to help low-income people afford the basics of living.

Some say it's time to end a tax break for high-tech. But that was created to encourage expansion and job growth.

The list goes on.

"Those tax breaks collectively cost hundreds of millions of dollars in lost state revenue every year," said Sen. Phil Rockefeller, D-Bainbridge Island.

Each tax break has its defenders. Under Initiative 1053 which was passed by 64 percent of voters last November, eliminating a tax break would be considered a tax increase requiring a two-thirds vote of the Legislature.

In a new KING 5 News poll, we asked how would you vote on that initiative today. 90 percent tell SurveyUSA they'd vote the same way -- they haven't changed their opinion on raising taxes.

"If you ignore the people and pass this, voters will react with dismay and disgust," initiative activist Tim Eyman said.

But some Democrats believe if they put another question on the ballot, voters may clarify what they meant by a tax increase. In the KING 5 poll, 55 percent say they'd support changing the definition of raising taxes so it doesn't include ending a tax break.

As the Legislature drags into its third week of special session, tax exemptions and several other issues such as workers compensation are not key to solving the immediate budget. But as long as they're somehow budget-related, lawmakers can still bring them up in special session.

These are the debates that are now standing in the way of lawmakers wrapping up and going home.

520 Tolls

As the state gears up to toll the State Route 520 floating bridge, there has been some talk about whether to toll the Interstate 90 bridge in the future.

Eyman is considering another initiative that would prevent any tolls collected on I-90 from being used to pay for 520. That idea has a lot of support. 60 percent of those in the KING 5 News poll say tolls raised on any bridge or road should be used only to build or maintain that specific road. People do not want to see money from I-90 tolls going to 520.

See complete interactive crosstabs here.