Washington: Newspaper Bailouts Begin

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Earlier this week, Washington Governor Christine Gregoire signed into a law a measure providing a 40 percent reduction in the state's business & occupation (B&O) tax for newspapers. Thousands of barrels of ink, millions of column inches, and billions of bytes have been expended in recent months lamenting the state of the newspaper industry, as newspapers such as the Boston Globe (and its parent, the New York Times) struggle to cope with -- or, in the case of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Rocky Mountain News, are completely overwhelmed by -- advertising revenue losses and consumers' preferences for information that they can access any time and any place.

Given this long-term transition from one media platform to another, it's hard to see what this measure will accomplish, other than the waste of tax revenue. After all, if Governor Gregoire and other officials in Washington are concerned about the possibility of an ill-informed populace, why not use the funds lost to the tax cut to forestall cuts to schools or to improve government transparency still further?

In the end, the inefficiency of this tax subsidy will probably only be matched by the irony it has achieved. As at least one observer has already noted, the Seattle Times, one of the subsidy's principal beneficiaries, offered the following editorial solution to the state's budget woes earlier this year: "Efficiency will be the watchword. Lawmakers will have to find numerous savings and new, less expensive ways to do business." Apparently, that advice extends only so far.

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