Here comes Frank Blethen, begging the Legislature for a tax break for his newspaper, the Seattle Times. He wants a 40% cut in business taxes; extended to all newspapers in the state, it would amount to a $2.1 million tax subsidy over the next two years.
Blethen argues the newspaper business is in hard times, with readership and advertising revenue headed downhill, and the recession giving a big push. That’s true. Most middle class and low-income people are also in hard times. But they are not getting any special favors from the state. In fact, most services for these families will be carved up in the next budget, something that the Seattle Times has heartily endorsed.
Newspapers already have a special exemption from charging sales tax, which will cost the state over $34 million in the next two years; local government will lose over $10 million. The legislature has granted hundreds of special little tax breaks like that one over the past five years, which now account for nearly $1 billion of the state current revenue shortfall.
Mr. Blethen also spent a lot of money defending his personal fortune by trying to get the Legislature and the people to forget about an estate tax. Luckily for us, his efforts failed, and the education legacy trust fund gains over $100 million a year from the estates of the very wealthy to fund our educational needs.
Blethen’s proposal will not “fix” the newspaper market. Whether we like it or not, the newspaper business is caving, thanks to TV, radio, the internet, blogs, and all the other new avenues of information that multiply day by day. Another tax favor won’t make a difference. At best, it will make the spiral of decline a little less steep.