The C is for Crank

Working Families Tax Credit Benefits Families. Single or Childless, Not So Much.

By Erica C. Barnett November 30, 2011

The most obvious objection to Gov. Chris Gregoire's proposal to pass a temporary half-cent state sales tax is that sales tax is, by nature, regressive---that is, low-income people spend a far greater percentage of their income on sales tax than higher-income folks.

Nonetheless, some lefty organizations---notably the Washington State Budget and Policy Center, a progressive think tank---are supporting the tax, in large part because it include a so-called "Working Families Tax Credit," essentially a rebate for low-income families.

Emphasis on families. The more kids you have, the more you benefit. For example, if you're married and have three kids, you can get a rebate of up to $567, depending on your income. In contrast, if you have no kids---even if you're married and filing together---your maximum rebate drops all the way to $50. Essentially, the rebate is a reward for having children that will do little or nothing to help working couples and single people who are low-income but don't happen to have kids.

Keeping in mind that $13,000 is approximately one-third of the median income for Washington State, here are some specific examples of how the rebate would apply:

A married couple with three kids can make up to $48,000 before their rebate drops to the minimum of $50. A similar family---married, three children---making $16,000 would receive the maximum rebate of $567.

In contrast, a married family with one child can only make up to a total of $40,500 to qualify for the minimum $50 rebate. A similar couple with one child making $16,500 would qualify for a maximum rebate of $16,500.

If you're a single parent, a parent in a domestic partnership, or a parent who's in a committed relationship but unmarried, the income cutoffs for receiving any rebate becomes significantly lower. If you're a single or otherwise unmarried parent with three kids, for example, the most you can make to qualify for the minimum $50 rebate is $43,000. That drops to $40,000 if you have two kids, and $35,000 if you only have one.

But the really dramatic drop is for people who don't have children. If you're married, the income cutoff for the minimum $50 rebate, for two people, is $18,000 a year. And for those without children, a $50 rebate is also the maximum---even if you only make $100 a year, $50 is all you get. If you're single, $50 is all you can qualify for, too---except in your case, you can only make up to $13,000 to qualify for any rebate. A single person making $13,500---again, about a third of the Washington State median income---would get no sales tax relief from the state.

Put another way: A married couple with three kids making $13,000 gets a rebate more than ten times larger than a single person or couple without kids who makes the exact same amount.

Obviously, kids cost money; people with kids should, in fairness, get a larger rebate. But I simply can't accept the premise that the mere fact of having children should qualify parents for a rebate ten times as large as single people---or why the income cutoff for single non-parents is a quarter of the cutoff for married people who've had three kids. If this is how advocates for the tax credit have made the sales-tax proposal "progressive," count this single, childless taxpayer out.
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