Despite a few snarky remarks about the press, Washington state legislators advanced a bill to help sustain local news outlets.

Senate Bill 5199 would expand the preferential business and occupation tax rate provided to newspaper publishers, reducing the tax to zero for 10 years.

This is one of several bills proposed in Olympia to address the local journalism crisis. With Congress yet to finalize national policies to help save the industry, Washington and several other states are stepping up with regional response.

Newspaper publishers face a substantial tax increase if the Legislature doesn’t act on SB 5199, because the current tax preference expires in 2024.

“You get to a point in the Legislature where your goal has to be to do no harm. In this case, having a higher B&O rate for the newspaper industry next year is clearly doing harm,” said state Sen. Mark Mullet, an Issaquah Democrat sponsoring the bill.

After SB 5199’s cost estimate came in far higher than expected, its definitions of eligible digital outlets were narrowed.


Beneficiaries must be printing newspapers now, or have printed newspapers since 2008, before the preference was enacted. They also need to publish at least monthly.

Changes reduced the program’s expected cost to $1.6 million in the current biennium, or $800,000 per year, down from $3.9 million. Mullet said that helps the bill’s chances of passage.

“I think we’re in good shape where we are right now,” he said.

Although it won’t solve all the problems facing the news industry, the tax savings are significant for newspapers that statewide lost nearly 70% of their newsroom staff since 2005.

“This isn’t a huge amount of money but every little bit helps,” Rowland Thompson, executive director of Allied Daily Newspapers of Washington, said at a hearing last month.

“For a small weekly newspaper this might be perhaps a half a reportorial position or to have some sort of stringer that they could fund to cover local government and hard news in their communities. For larger newspapers it’s probably a couple of reporting positions.”


Debate about SB 5199 was an opportunity for a few politicians to express their feelings about “the media.”

Sen. Mark Schoesler of Ritzville, a former Republican Senate majority leader, signed a “do not pass” recommendation. Other Republicans on the Ways & Means Committee advanced SB 5199 without a recommendation.

Majority Democrats recommended passage. But one, Sen. Kevin Van De Wege of Sequim, amended the bill’s statement about the importance of newspapers to insert this:

“Newspapers in Washington state have lobbied and editorialized for open public records, and fought attempts to rein in frivolous requests, costing local and state governments millions of dollars each year.”

Transparency is a core obligation of state and local government and highly valued by Washingtonians.

Perhaps legislators should work to improve dissemination of public information, so it costs everyone less to have an informed citizenry.


Van De Wege also questioned statements about newspapers benefiting taxpayers.

That was established by researchers at the universities of Chicago and Notre Dame, and the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology in 2019.

“Overall, our results indicate that local newspapers hold their governments accountable, keeping municipal borrowing costs low and ultimately saving local taxpayers money,” they concluded.

When you combine those savings with the increased civic engagement and civic literacy that newspapers provide, and the value of jobs preserved, SB 5199 looks like one of the better deals legislators will make for taxpayers this session.

Google summoned for bullying Canada: Faced with the prospect of having to finally pay for news content it profits from, Google last week began blocking some Canadians from getting news via its search engine.

The company called it a test, affecting under 4% of the population for about five weeks. But it’s clearly a threat as Canada gets closer to passing a law requiring dominant platforms to negotiate fair compensation with news publishers.

This should raise questions for customers who depend on Google services. In a blink they can become political pawns whose information needs are secondary to corporate lobbying tactics.


Google threatened to drop services in Australia in 2021 as it pursued similar legislation.

In response, a Canadian parliamentary committee summoned Google executives, including CEO Sundar Pichai, to appear Monday and explain the maneuvering.

“It smacks of intimidation and bullying rather than a business strategy,” House of Commons member Martin Champoux of Quebec said during a Canadian Heritage committee meeting Tuesday.

Another member, Chris Bittle of Ontario, said Google “has to answer to legislators, it has to answer to Canadian democracy. Its attempts to avoid regulation not only in Canada but around the world is disappointing.”

Alabama papers stop printing: The last printed editions of Alabama’s largest newspapers were published Sunday, as The Birmingham News, Huntsville Times and Mobile Press-Register became online only.