Washington tax debate continues in special session

March 16, 2010

With the start of a special legislative session March 15, the Washington state legislature will again consider a proposal that would create the highest registration rates in the nation for many types of aircraft.

The Washington House and Senate had been considering legislation in the regular session that would impose a 0.5 percent annual excise tax on aircraft based in the state. The session concluded March 11, but Gov. Christine Gregoire called a special session to allow lawmakers to address several budget bills that still required action—including those with the proposed tax. AOPA met with legislators during the regular session to explain how such a tax would hurt the state’s economy and continues to oppose the proposal.

“The proposed tax on aircraft in Washington could drive aviation-related business to other states and cost the state in enforcement expenses and lost revenue,” said AOPA Vice President of Airports and State Advocacy Greg Pecoraro. “AOPA continues to be fully engaged in Washington as it enters a special legislative session and is working to keep that provision out of the final bill.”

Lawmakers on both sides started eyeing the tax as a quick way to generate more revenue for the state; local pilots and aviation groups immediately stepped in. Heeding the concerns raised by AOPA and local aviation groups about the potential economic effects, the Senate withheld the provision from its final version of the bill in the regular session, only to have Rep. Ross Hunter add the tax provision, and other language, again in the House before sending it back to the Senate.

The clock eventually ran out in the regular session, and here is where things stand. The special legislative session runs for seven days, and the fate of the tax proposal is still uncertain. Senate Bill 6143 will begin anew in the Senate without the aircraft tax provision; if the Senate approves the bill, it will be transferred to the House for approval. At that point, the House could still add the tax by amendment and send the bill back to the Senate, as it did in the regular session. Disagreement between the House and Senate proposals could send the bill into a conference committee to address differences between the House and Senate proposals. 

With bills essentially returning to their chamber of origin, this opens the possibility for other bills containing the aircraft excise tax to be considered as well, Pecoraro explained. AOPA will be monitoring all bills containing the provision.  The specific date or time for bill hearings has not yet been announced.