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Tax breaks and the power of inertia

December 13, 2013 J

In a vote that illustrates a continuing dilemma for state politicians, a legislative committee on Wednesday saved a tax break for dentists — the only recommendation to get rid of a tax exemption put before it on Wednesday.

The actual issue is minor. The tax break is for insurance premiums for dentists, and its elimination would have provided $22.4 million in state revenue in 2015-2017.

But Wednesday’s debate was a microcosm of the issues facing the state Legislature as it ponders how to handle tax exemptions. The bottom line: Tax breaks are easy to create and difficult to eliminate.

Washington has at least 650 tax exemptions worth tens of billions of dollars. Eliminating tax exemptions in bulk and in the abstract has been a popular battle cry in Olympia. But, when specific tax exemptions are studied individually and in detail, a rationale to keep each one usually prevails.

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