Seattle Times Columnist Jon Talton Criticizes Business Tax Breaks, Except the One that Benefits His Newspaper

February 1, 2011

In a recent column Seattle Times business columnist Jon Talton criticizes Amazon for “seeking the most favorable tax environment to boost profits,” accusing the Seattle-based online retailer of “gaming the tax system”  He says Washington companies like Amazon and Boeing have a social obligation to pay higher taxes to help pay for public services like infrastructure, education, parks and other public amenities.  As I read the column two thoughts occurred to me.

First, I thought it odd that as a business columnist Talton does not seem to share the view that the primary way for-profit businesses benefit society is by providing good jobs for their employees and valuable services for their customers – these are long-lasting economic goods that make life better for everyone.  Raising the tax burden, as he recommends, would discourage private investment and job-creation, hurting workers, and lead to higher prices, hurting consumers.

Second, I seemed to recall The Seattle Times had recently received a tax break of its own.  Sure enough, a check at revealed the quiet enactment HB 2122, “Reducing the business and occupation tax burden on the newspaper industry.”

In 2009 The Seattle Times and other for-profit newspapers sought, and received, a major tax break.  Olympia lawmakers dropped the B&O tax from 0.484% to 0.2904%, awarding companies like The Seattle Times a nice 40% tax cut.  Meanwhile similar companies that do not sell newspapers continue to pay at the higher rate.  The special exemption allows newspapers to divert the tax savings to cover other expenses, like publishing the work of business columnist Jon Talton.

If Talton believes Washington companies have a social obligation to forego special tax breaks and pay higher taxes to help fund common amenities, shouldn’t he at least inform readers that he is benefiting from a special tax break himself?



Meanwhile similar companies that do not sell newspapers continue to pay at the higher rate.