NOTE: This letter to the editor was originally published in the Seattle Times on March 25, 2011.
In the March 23 editorial titled, "Loopy budget thinking" [Opinion], The Times asserts that the state's $5 billion revenue shortfall for 2011-2013 can't be balanced by raising fees and closing tax loopholes for industry.
While it is true that eliminating tax preferences is by no means the silver bullet to our historic budget challenges, the hundreds of tax loopholes and exemptions currently in state law cost taxpayers billions each year. Two examples are tax breaks for elective cosmetic surgery and private airplanes.
Others do serve a public purpose, such as the sales-tax exemption on food. But law requires that an overwhelming majority of them remain on the books year after year, without scrutiny, creating an endless subsidy for businesses and individuals who benefit from them.
I introduced Senate Bill 5857 to bring transparency and accountability to the budget-writing process. It is a complex but vital proposal, requiring the timely review of tax preferences with every two-year budget cycle.
Only 17 percent of existing tax expenditures have ever been reviewed, though many have been in place for decades. By adding sunset dates to current tax exemptions, lawmakers and the public would have the opportunity to evaluate whether tax preferences still provide a public benefit and, if so, should continue.
— Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, Olympia