The Spokane business community long has needed a predictable, sustainable source of funding for economic development. The Point 09 proposal is the best mechanism currently under consideration for providing a steady flow to enable development of a comprehensive, long-term strategy to attract and retain employers and the jobs they create.
Business advocates should support fully the Point 09 campaign and lobby for it when in front of state legislators in Olympia during the legislative session that kicked off this week. In turn, legislators should make the effort a priority and ensure that it gets passed during the current session.
Before we get into the reasons why, here’s how the funding mechanism would work. As proposed, the Point 09 bill would expand an existing state law that rebates a portion of sales-and-use taxes – up to 0.09%, thus the Point 09 name – back to the originating county for economic development purposes. That law applies only to rural counties now, and the proposed expansion would enable urban border counties to be eligible for the same sort of rebate.
To be clear, this would be a redistribution of a portion of the established sales tax, not a new tax.
If successful, the effort could generate up to $11 million annually for economic development in Spokane County.
Early in the new state legislative session, Senate Bill 5899 has been introduced, and a companion bill, sponsored by Rep. Marcus Riccelli (D-Spokane), is being proposed in the state House of Representatives, says Cara Coon, vice president of communications and public affairs at Greater Spokane Incorporated. GSI has been working to build a statewide coalition in support of the measure and has 30-plus endorsements so far, Coon says.
Such a bill would benefit Clark County, which is situated on the Washington-Oregon border and has Vancouver as its county seat, as well as Spokane County. That said, Spokane arguably has the most to gain; of the 39 counties in the state, Spokane is the only one that doesn’t have a port district or is too large, populationwise, to qualify for the sales tax rebate. Every other county has one or the other, if not both.
Couple that with the fact that Spokane County has a competitive disadvantage, in some cases, when going up against Idaho in competition for companies looking to relocate to or expand into the Inland Northwest. Those willing to look across state lines to Idaho can find a lower minimum wage and no business-and-occupation tax. A consistent economic-development funding mechanism, which could be used in part for related infrastructure improvements, could help to even the playing field.
If the tax rebate is expanded to include border communities, a designated advisory board would allocate funds to groups promoting Spokane or recruiting business. It’s unclear how that would work here, but business groups and municipalities would have ample time to look at best practices used elsewhere in the state to find the model that would work best.
That can be figured out later. Right now, the key is to secure the funding, a task that could be somewhat of a challenge during a short legislative session.
With the assistance of the business community, however, legislators ideally will see the value in and the need for supporting the Point 09 campaign. It’s time for Spokane County to have a sustainable economic development funding mechanism.