Susan Hutchison officially kicked off her campaign for King County Executive yesterday at a press conference where she made cutting the Business and Occupation Tax the centerpiece of her plan for fixing county government. Which is curious because A) cutting tax revenues seems a counterintuitive means of dealing with King County’s growing revenue shortfall, and B) King County doesn’t levy a B&O tax.
The best comeback of the day came from one of her opponents, Rep. Ross Hunter, the chair of the House Finance Committee, the committee from which a B&O tax cut would originate:
“If Hutchinson wants to change the B&O threshold she should run for the Legislature, not King County Executive.”
It’s good to see Hutchison finally talking specifics, but I mean, really… is this the best she can do? So intent on being the pro-business candidate she’s reduced to focusing on taxes the county doesn’t even charge?
Look, I’m all for local elected officials taking the lead in advocating for our region in Olympia—we could certainly use more of that around here—and I’m the first to tell you that the B&O tax is a ridiculous, 75-year-old kluge that disadvantages small businesses and startups. But adjusting the B&O threshold does little to address the broader problem with the way we tax businesses in Washington state, and does absolutely nothing to fix county government.
At best, this whole theme is just clever electioneering, allowing Hutchison to campaign as a tax-cutter while pushing a proposal that wouldn’t actually reduce revenues to a county government already struggling in the grip of the Great Recession. At worst, this focus shows a lack preparedness for coping with the immediate problems at hand, and a vague (if any) understanding of our broader tax structure mess, and the central, historical role the B&O tax plays within it.
Of course, we can never have a real conversation about fixing the B&O tax until the business community comes to the table to talk about the more rational corporate and/or personal income tax that would inevitably replace it. If Hutchison wants to take the lead on that effort, I’ll gladly reevaluate my opinion of her as a political lightweight.
But I’m not holding my breath.