Washington lawmakers OK change to tax to fund college affordability


OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Washington lawmakers have passed a bill that would change a tax that’s supposed to make it easier for the state to pay for the Legislature’s promise to make college more affordable.

The Seattle Times reports that initially, the 2019 package planned to use a business-and-occupation tax to pay for a measure making higher education more accessible, starting in the 2020-2021 school year.

The new bill, sponsored by Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, replaces the tax lawmakers approved last year with a different version of the levy. In addition to worries that there wouldn’t be enough funding, lawmakers were concerned that last year’s version was so complicated, there could be trouble collecting it. Instead of a three-tiered tax on services, for example, it sets a 1.75% rate for most businesses that gross more than $1 million annually.

Democratic House lawmakers Thursday night approved Senate Bill 6292 by a 52-45 vote. No Republicans voted in favor of the bill; five Democrats from swing districts around the Puget Sound voted against it. The new version of the tax would raise about $234 million over the 2021-23 budget cycle to fund the Washington College Grant.

The measure, which has passed the Senate, now heads to Gov. Jay Inslee. If he signs it, the law would take effect April 1.

The legislation comes in response to higher-than-expected costs for Washington College Grant, which lawmakers passed last year. That program has been projected to provide up to 110,000 low- or median-income students with reduced or free tuition.

The Washington College Grant replaced the State Need Grant, which ran out of money every year.