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February 13, 2018

Fishing fleet bill is exactly what's needed for all manufacturers

By: Clay Hill   Comments: 0

Lawmakers voted 97-1 last week in favor of a bill aimed at helping Washington’s fishing and seafood processing industries stay competitive, proving that tax policy votes aren’t always controversial.

Sometimes, Democrats and Republicans can agree that it makes sense to boost an industry that supports great job opportunities.

Substitute House Bill 1154, prime-sponsored by Rep. Gael Tarleton, D-Ballard, would reduce the business and occupation (B&O) tax rate for boat manufacturers to 0.2904, hopefully giving those manufacturers a fighting chance against lower-cost states to rebuild the North Pacific fishing fleet here in Washington.

The fleet, which is largely homeported in Washington, is getting old and needs to be updated. Vessels average 40 years old, according to The Seattle Times. It’s in the state’s economic interest to ensure that the boats in next-generation fleet are built here rather than Oregon or the Gulf Coast.

If the logic surrounding the bill sounds familiar, it’s because the argument behind it is strikingly like the argument behind broader bills aimed at reducing the B&O tax rate for all manufacturers.

AWB supports those bills, including House Bill 2947, sponsored by Rep. Mike Chapman, D-Port Angeles, (if it’s amended to apply the relief to the entire state, not just 31 of the state’s 39 counties), and Senate Bill 6542, sponsored by Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane.

It’s great that lawmakers are willing to support maritime manufacturers by lowering the B&O tax rate. If it’s the right thing for that industry, it should be extended to all manufacturers.

It was also encouraging to see the near-unanimous support for the performance measures included in the bill to evaluate its effectiveness. The bill contains no performance “clawbacks,” which some have insisted on for other tax incentives, but instead asks the Legislature to review the lower rate in the future to see if there are more businesses building boats making more revenue than before the rate went into effect.

During floor debate, Tarleton told her colleagues they had a once-in-a-generation opportunity to send the fishing industry a message: “We’re in it for the long haul. We’re going to let our fishing fleet win. We’re going to help our companies build great ships, great vessels, to go into the Artic and along the Washington coast and give us thousands and thousands of jobs for people who will buy homes, raise families and send their kids to school.”

It’s a winning message, for sure. The ensuing vote was almost unanimous, sending the bill over to the Senate. We hope it passes just as easily there and goes to the governor’s desk for his signature.

But the message Tarleton asked her colleagues to send isn’t just for the maritime manufacturing sector. It’s a message that all Washington manufacturers — in every industry and every county in the state — need to hear.

“We’re in it for the long haul. We’re going to let our manufacturers win.”