Editorial: News is good on sales tax but mixed on conservation
The overarching good news coming out of Washington, D.C., last week was that Congress agreed to an omnibus spending bill without the drama of past years. Republican and Democratic leaders in the House and Senate worked together to pass spending bills that won overwhelming bipartisan approval.
The budget runs 2,000-plus pages, so there is a lot to wade through and pick at. But one item in particular will have an impact on residents in Washington state, and another brings mixed news to state and Yakima Valley residents.
One provision will make permanent a federal tax deduction for state and local sales taxes, something that those who have claimed the deduction on federal income tax forms have come to assume all these years. In actuality, Congress has renewed it annually since the mid-1980s. And while state taxpayers have received the deduction every year, having it subject to annual renewal meant it never really was a done deal.
Now it is, and it allows taxpayers in sales-tax heavy states like Washington to get the same treatment as those in other states who automatically get a deduction on state and local income taxes. Washington, as we know, doesn’t have an income tax, along with Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Wyoming. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., says 25 percent of tax filers in this state claim the deduction — an estimated 900,000 residents who cut their federal tax bills every year. The Pew Charitable Trust puts the average savings from the deduction at $602 annually.
Another item involves the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which has a long and storied history in this state and whose survival appeared in doubt through much of the congressional budget deliberations. The late Washington Sen. Henry Jackson is credited with creating the fund, which dates back to 1964, but conservative Republicans had sought severe cuts and even elimination of the fund. The program ran out of money on Sept. 30 as Congress haggled over its provisions.
But this state’s congressional delegation worked across party lines — one of the champions this year is Republican Rep. Dave Reichert, whose district includes Kittitas County — and the fund will get $450 million through September 2018. The approved appropriation will fill in gaps in the Pacific Coast Trail, promote sustainable forestry near Mount St. Helens and fund a number of projects on the west side.
Alas, it didn’t get enough to purchase 2,560 acres within the North Fork of the Little Naches River, which would enable further progress on the Yakima River Basin Integrated Plan, which has brought many different and differing stakeholders together to increase the Yakima Valley’s water supply.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund comes up for reauthorization in three years, and we urge our congressional delegation to push for the land acquisition in the next budget. Land acquisitions and other conservation measures are key to the integrated plan, which also includes increased water storage.
These two items signify how practical congressional representatives are willing to work across party lines for provisions that benefit the state. Our state has a history of that, and it’s good to see history repeating itself. We hope measures that help ensure the Yakima Valley’s future water supply are next in line when the fund comes up for approval again in 2018.