Washington papers paid dearly for tax cut
While the 40% tax reduction in the state’s main business signed into law on Tuesday sounds impressive, it will save the jobs of perhaps 15 reporters across all of the state’s ailing newspapers.
This calculation is based on the statement by legislators during hearings on the bill that the measure would save newspapers $8.1 million between now and when the tax cut expires in 2015. Assuming an average annual cost of $75,000 for a fully loaded reporter and that savings are reaped equally over seven years, then approximately 15 jobs could be saved if the publishers applied all the savings to payroll.
There is no obligation, of course, that the savings be used to preserve jobs. They could be used for anything from press equipment to redecorating the lobby.
While every little bit admittedly helps embattled publishers, this special gift instantly made the publishers more beholden than they properly should be to Gov. Chris Gregoire and legislators who overwhelmingly backed the measure in spite of a budget deficit estimated at more than $8 billion – and climbing.
In lobbying aggressively for the tax break, the publishers sacrificed their moral authority to challenge favoritism, fiscal imprudence and self-dealing on the part of the state government and the dozens of political figures who supported the measure.
Further, this dangerous bargain compromises the credibility of the newspapers by leaving readers to wonder:
:: Will the political leaders who supported the tax break be accorded favorable treatment – or outright immunity – in the coverage of any real or alleged transgressions in the future?
:: Will the paper fairly cover upcoming political campaigns involving the politicians who supported the tax break?
:: Will future political endorsements be tilted in favor of the politicians who helped the newspapers?
Publishers and editors undoubtedly will promise to be as vigilant and impartial as ever. And that may be true.
But thoughtful readers will be left wondering. And that can’t be good for business.