(The Center Square) – Legislation to benefit local journalism by taking an existing tax break and greatly expanding it just passed a major milestone making it out of the Senate in a 47-1 vote Friday.
According to the most recent official estimates, the lost revenue from these tax breaks would total $6.3 million over the 2023 to 2029 time frame.
A substitute version of the original bill, Senate Bill 5199, proposed by state Sen. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah, at the behest of Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson, made it out of the Senate Committee on Business, Financial Services, Gaming, and Trade in late January.
The bill was then marked up further by Ways and Means, and a second substitute was then sent to the Senate floor for a reading, before being modified a third time and passed in a nearly unanimous vote Friday.
“I’ve seen local newspapers and media in my district struggle over the past decade, and too many have already had to shut down,” said bill sponsor Mullet in a statement from Senate Democrats accompanying the bill’s passage and referral to the House of Representatives.
“Local journalists play an essential role to inform the public, hold politicians and government accountable, and make our communities stronger. That role is particularly important at the local level, where incredibly important decisions are made that CNN or Fox News will never cover,” Mullet went on to say.
If enacted, it would replace a law that has been in place for over a decade. The current regime grants newspapers a preferential business and occupation tax rate. According to the state auditor, that adds up to about $423,000 in tax relief over the 2022-2024 biennium.
That preferential rate expires on Jan. 1, 2024. Rather than simply let it expire, the proposed replacement legislation would create a tax deduction increasing employer tax-saving nearly 5-fold to $6.3 million over the 2024-2029 fiscal years, according to the Washington State Department of Revenue.
The fiscal note also says the estimated operating expenditures over that time frame will come out to $233,600, or roughly $39,000 per year.
The definition of eligible media organizations would expand to include digital content with the following restrictions: The news organization must publish at an interval not longer than once every three months, have between two and fifty employees, feature primarily written content, and be available exclusively in electronic format. To qualify for an exemption under the new law, both digital and print business must have been actively publishing since January 1, 2008.
A notable change in the Senate’s adopted version is the addition of a ninth section with the singular clause, “This act expires January 1, 2034.”
If enacted, the bill would take effect January 1, 2024, just as the old preferential rate expires.
The bill will now be considered by the state House.