Proposal would exempt Washington’s news outlets from B&O tax

Legislation cited as necessary save jobs and protect a critical community service.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced on Jan. 10 that he is partnering with Sen. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah, and Rep. Gerry Pollet, D-Seattle, to propose a bill this legislative session to exempt Washington newspapers and eligible online news outlets from the state business and occupation tax.

Newspapers currently pay a reduced B&O tax rate, but that preferential tax rate expires in July 2024. Consistent with the Legislative Auditor’s recommendation, Senate Bill 5199 (with companion House Bill 1206) would move to fully eliminate the B&O tax for newspaper publishers and printers.

This legislation also extends the same rate to exclusively online news outlets that provide a similar public benefit as printed papers.

According to the Attorney General’s office, this legislation is part of Ferguson’s ongoing commitment to promote and defend democracy and combat polarization, misinformation and extremism.

A detailed report from the Washington League of Women Voters on the impacts of the loss of local journalism framed the harm this way: “Fewer people running for office and fewer people voting, less community engagement, increased political partisanship, and negative outcomes in public health and public finance.”

The proposal is intended to have two benefits: save jobs and protect a critical community service. The legislation will reduce state revenues by an estimated $1 million per year, according to the announcement.

“I’ve seen local newspapers and media in my district struggle over the past few years, and too many have already had to shut down,” Mullet said. “We have to help keep these outlets afloat. Local journalists play an essential role to inform the public, hold government accountable, and make our communities stronger.”

The bill will have its first hearing in the Senate Committee on Business, Financial Services, Gaming and Trade at 10:30 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 12.