Lies of Omission

I’ve been perusing the bills filed so far in the new legislative session here in Washington. There are a lot of them, many of them dealing with taxes.

  • Cigarette Tax, 2
  • Excise Tax, 3
  • Income Tax, 2
  • Motor Vehicle Fuel Tax, 2
  • Property Tax, 25
  • Public Utility Tax, 8
  • Sales Tax, 19
  • Special Fuel Tax, 2
  • Use Tax, 16

Note: There appears to be overlap amongst some of the categories, so the total number of tax-related bills filed is less than the sum of this list. Also, not all of the bills are proposing new or higher taxes.

While browsing through the tax-related bills, I spotted HB 1307, An act relating to public health financing. The reason this caught my eye is that it proposes a tax on bottled water. HB 1307 is sponsored by Representatives Moeller, Williams, Hunt, Pedersen, Jacks, Darneille, Hudgins and Dunsh.

As food items are currently exempt from our State sales tax, I decided to have a closer look. HB 1307 would indeed authorize counties to impose a $.05 per bottle tax on water at either the wholesale or retail level (but not both). New taxes are nothing “new” here in Washington but I did find one provision of the new tax particularly revealing. Section 2, (3):

For sales to a final consumer, a retailer or wholesaler may not separately state the tax under this section from the selling price in any sales receipt or sales invoice or other instrument of sale.

In other words, the bill requires that the tax be hidden from the average consumer. That strikes me as something that Washington voters don’t want to encourage.

In addition, the bill requires the Secretary of Health to evaluate each local health agency at least every three years; no mention is made of the cost of such oversight. It also authorizes the Secretary to withhold the funds collected under this tax from any local agency that fails to meet the guidelines for core public health functions as set forth by the State, even though those funds would have been collected for the direct benefit of the citizens of those counties.

“Core public health functions” include:

Communicable disease prevention and response; preparation for, and response to, public health emergencies caused by pandemic disease, earthquake, flood, or terrorism; prevention and management of chronic diseases and disabilities; promotion of healthy families and the development of children; assessment of local health conditions, risks, and trends, and evaluation of the effectiveness of intervention efforts; and environmental health concerns…

I’ll leave it to you to decide on potential abuses of privacy that could be engendered by some of these core functions. And, of course, provision is made for future additions to the list of core functions.

The stated purpose of HB 1307 from Section 1 is:

The legislature finds that public health is a core function of state government. The local health jurisdictions in Washington state’s decentralized public health system depend on a combination of federal, state, and local funding. This funding system can make public health funding unstable on the local level and can adversely affect the public health services available to the citizens of the state. It is therefore the intent of the legislature to help provide local health jurisdictions with a more stable dedicated funding system by authorizing local option revenue sources (emapasis mine)…

Does this statement remind anyone of the story of Barack Obama And The Arugula? Bottled water may be considered a necessity along the I-5 corridor, but probably not so much in Aberdeen and Hoquiam. And even in counties where bottle water use is high, some people will inevitably find it to be much less necessary if the price suddenly goes up by $1.20 a case for something they can just as easily get from their taps.

The only thing I like about this tax is that I can completely avoid it. Washington voters, please contact your legislators to voice your concerns about this bill and your disapproval over the Legislature’s attempt to deceive.

Cross posted at It’s Only Words.