STATEWIDE ballots this year include five advisory votes on tax increases. Since the Washington Supreme Court struck down most of the Tim Eyman initiative requiring a two-thirds vote of legislators or a vote of the people to raise taxes, what’s left are these nonbinding advisory votes
The largest of the five increases, $478 million over 10 years, is in Washington’s estate tax, which is levied at death. The increase is legally and economically wrong and deserves a vote of repeal.
The tax is on assets of people who died more than a decade ago. Tax was assessed on their estates, but payment was postponed until their spouses died. By that time the tax had been repealed. Later there was a new tax and the state applied the new tax to the old estates. One of them sued and the state Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the new tax did not apply to old estates.
Last June, the state Department of Revenue was on the verge of sending out refunds when the Legislature passed a bill applying the new tax retroactively. One of the estates has since sued, saying this is illegal.
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It probably is. If it isn’t, it should be.
There is also an economic problem with a heavy tax at death. It undercuts family-owned businesses and chases wealthy seniors out of the state. Washington’s top rate of death tax is 19 percent, the highest of the 14 states that have this tax, and is on top of the federal rate of 35 percent. With a federal rate that high, the state rate should be zero.
The other advisory votes on the Nov. 5 ballot should be to maintain. Only the tax on telephone landlines amounts to much: $397 million over 10 years. It is an unfortunate tax, but had the Legislature not imposed it, a similar tax would have come off cellphones, wrecking the budget. At least this tax is unambiguously legal and was not imposed after the fact.