Gov. Jay Inslee and state lawmakers of both parties regularly say they want to help the people of our state. In the legislative session that starts Monday, there is one easy way they can instantly help every person living in Washington: Cut the state sales tax.

Official reports show elected officials will receive an $8 billion tax surplus in the next four years, over and above the current $59 billion state budget. Naturally, special interests would like Olympia to spend every dollar, but lawmakers should resist going that far. Returning part of the surplus would still leave billions in reserve and a healthy four-year budget outlook, more than enough to pay for education, public safety and other vital services — and even fund another pay raise for public employees.

The state sales tax started in the 1930s at a low rate of 2%. Over the decades, lawmakers gradually increased the rate so that now it has more than tripled, to 6.5%. Local governments are allowed to add to the state tax, bringing the sales tax in King County, for example, to just over 10%.

The last time lawmakers and a governor cut the sales tax was in 1982, nearly 40 years ago. Back then gas was 90 cents a gallon, a carton of eggs cost 79 cents, and you could buy a brand new Lincoln Town Car for $13,000. We live in a very different world today — one that faces huge challenges that no one anticipated back when the Legislature imposed such a high sales tax on everyone.

There are four key reasons lawmakers should pass a sales tax cut this year.

First, the state has plenty of money — a massive surplus — more than enough to provide working families and business owners with modest tax relief. Each one-tenth percent reduction in the sales tax rate provides some $306 million in tax relief, so a one percentage point sales tax cut would only “cost” the state about $3 billion.


Second, most of the benefit would go to middle-class and working families, and particularly to the poor and elderly people living on fixed incomes. It would make everything, from hot dogs to housing, more affordable.

Third, a sales tax cut would make the tax code more fair. The sales tax is one of the most regressive taxes that lawmakers impose. The rich barely feel it, but it adds a major burden on families that must spend most of their income on daily needs.

Fourth, a sales tax cut would fight inflation across the board. Inflation today is the highest it’s been since Jimmy Carter was president. Polls show that rising prices are one of the top economic worries families face. Cutting the sales tax would have an immediate impact on easing inflation in nearly every area of life.

There’s an important civic reason for coming together behind broad-based tax relief. Our politics are sharply divided, and the name-calling and finger-pointing feels meaner than ever. 

Reducing the burden of taxation is popular and has bipartisan appeal. That is because people living in every community, every legislative district and region of the state, whether red, blue or in between, would directly benefit. In fact, people living in heavily urban areas would benefit even more, because the cost of living there is already so high. 

In December, the governor said he “doubts” he would support tax relief. But with the new year bringing continued COVID-19 restrictions and growing economic worries, he may be open to changing his mind. 

In recent years, confidence in our public institutions has taken a hit. A broad-based tax cut would show that public officials understand the stresses that families face. Greater public confidence would strengthen our democracy and restore a sense that our elected leaders can work across party lines.

Cutting a regressive tax is one issue on which hopefully lawmakers of both parties, and maybe the governor himself, will agree. If they do, it would make 2022 a better year for everyone.