Ballard/Thompson Award 2016.

State Sen. Reuven Carlyle honored with Ballard/Thompson Award for tax transparency efforts

Sen. Reuven Carlyle is presented the Ballard/Thompson Award by WCOG President Toby Nixon.

Sen. Reuven Carlyle is presented the Ballard/Thompson Award by WCOG President Toby Nixon.

The Washington Coalition for Open Government recognized the open government efforts of State Sen. Reuven Carlyle (D-Seattle) with the Ballard/Thompson Award at the coalition’s Open Government Conference Jan. 23, 2016.

Sen. Carlyle, who served four terms in the state house of representatives before his recent election to the state senate, was recognized for his ongoing work on tax transparency. Toby Nixon, WCOG president, described the Ballard/Thompson Award as “our legislator of the year award,” given to “the legislator who demonstrated outstanding dedication to the cause of open government during the preceding legislative session,” but noted that Sen. Carlyle’s work spans several sessions.

Sen. Carlyle pushed legislation to ensure the amount and extent of tax breaks given to large corporations must be made public within two years of approval.

“It has historically been very difficult to find out if these promised benefits actually materialized, or even who was making use of the tax preferences,” Nixon noted. The new disclosure rules ensures “we can together assess whether there is a return on investment and better study whether a new tax preference achieves the policy goals established.”

This new practice ensured media – and public – awareness of a $20 million tax break for Boeing Co., which would previously have been withheld under tax confidentiality laws.

But that’s not the biggest such break, Sen. Carlyle told Open Government Conference attendees upon accepting the award.

“The Number One beneficiary was Microsoft with $18.5 million in [research and development] tax credits,” he said. Second was Fred Hutchison Cancer Research Center with $2.3 million.

It’s also worth knowing how much Washington companies pay in business and occupation taxes, Sen. Carlyle added. The figures can be released in aggregate, and they include #38.7 million from tech firms, $69.7 million from aerospace companies and $2 million from agriculture – which Sen. Carlyle noted is the state’s second-largest industry.

“Transparency is the DNA and the soul and the core of material public-policy-making in this area,” Sen. Carlyle said. “It matters to the public to know we’ve made that choice” to give breaks. His legislative colleagues sometimes argue that disclosure subjects companies to public embarrassment if it was known what they paid in taxes.

“I argue the public has a right to know,” he added, vowing to continue to promote disclosure in regard to Washington’s tax code.

The award is named in honor of former Speaker of the House Clyde Ballard and former State Sen. Alan Thompson, who both sent their congratulations to the newest recipient.

“To be selected to receive the award for open government is very special to me and it is my opinion that at this time in the history of our country this is a top priority,” former Speaker Ballard wrote. “I have received positive comments regarding your commitment … It is not always easy to take that kind of stand.”

Former State Sen. Thompson, in his congratulations, recalled the bipartisan efforts involved in passing early open government laws, “to underscore the nonpartisan nature of advocacy for pen government.” He added, “That fact may also be recognized in the composition of names attached to the award you receive today, Senator Carlyle. Clyde Ballard and I, Republican and Democrat, are joined not only in friendship but in purpose as well, the purpose which you, Senator Carlyle, have served so effectively and admirably.”

Other previous recipients of the Ballard/Thompson Award include Sen. Bob Morton, Speaker of the House Frank Chopp and Sen. Joe Fain.

Return to April 2016 Newsletter