What the federal spending bill means for Whatcom County
Washington state taxpayers and industries will get a boost from the tax and spending bills that federal lawmakers agreed to this week, on everything from deducting sales taxes to money for parks.
The House and Senate approved the catch-all, $1.1 trillion omnibus funding bill and the so-called tax extenders on Friday, Dec. 18, to keep the government operating through the 2016 fiscal year.
For Washington and the six other states without an income tax, including Florida and Texas, the bill makes permanent a hard-fought tax break to give taxpayers who itemize the ability to deduct sales taxes on their federal income tax returns. About 900,000 Washington residents used the deduction in 2012, with an average savings of $602.
With oil prices low, Congress lifted the 40-year-old ban on domestic crude oil exports, which could mean more business for Whatcom County’s oil refineries. Democrats were less thrilled, although opponents to lifting the ban – imposed in 1975 to secure domestic supply – were meant to be mollified by the restoration of wind and solar energy tax credits in the extenders bill.
Lawmakers also extended through 2016 a $1-per-gallon tax credit for biodiesel.
Some of the other impacts to Washington state include:
▪ An increase in funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which improves recreational access to federal land and parks. Included is money to help preserve the Pacific Crest Trail in Washington and provide conservation easements to preserve historic farmland at Ebey’s Landing on Whidbey Island.
▪ Funding for watercraft inspection stations that help prevent invasive quagga and zebra mussels in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana. Bellingham has such a program in place on Lake Whatcom. The federal money requires a state match.
▪ An increase in funding for firefighting and wildland fire suppression, which would have covered this year’s expensive fire season in central Washington.
▪ Mandatory labeling of genetically engineered salmon. Also: a moratorium of interstate commerce for the so-called “Frankenfish,” which grow faster and larger than wild salmon, until the Food and Drug Administration establishes the labeling guidelines.
▪ Money for ocean acidification research and monitoring, which helps to protect the Northwest oyster industry.