TaxSleuth Site Helps Wash. Track Cost of Government

Published September 1, 2009

Washington state’s confusing tax system includes some 1,800 taxing districts and approximately 3,300 tax code areas, not counting the many taxes imposed by the state’s nearly 300 cities and towns.

To help Washingtonians make a little sense of how all this affects their taxes, the Evergreen Freedom Foundation has launched a new Web site——consolidating information about state and local tax rates.

Many tax rates are currently available from various sources, but they must be searched one at a time, and it can be difficult for citizens to find them if they are not sure where to look. Under the state’s current tax structure, it’s all but impossible for people to determine how much tax they pay to the various jurisdictions in a year.

Personal Tax Calculations allows individuals to calculate their annual tax burden on a personal level. Visitors can click on an interactive map or enter their address to get a comprehensive list of state and local property taxes for their chosen location, including special levies such as fire, library, school, transit, and others.

In addition, includes calculators for major sales and business taxes.

By filling in the blanks, a user can figure out his or her tax burden in a year and compare it to the average Washington resident’s annual tax load. The site also includes colorful graphics, such as pie charts and graphs showing major tax categories and tax trends over time.

Sandra Fabry, state government affairs manager at Americans for Tax Reform, offered a preliminary review of the Web site, saying: “ is a powerful tool for taxpayers. We’ve made quite a lot of progress in the area of ‘spending transparency’ around the country in the last two years, although much remains to be done. The next step is tax transparency. With this Web site, the Evergreen Freedom Foundation may have just delivered the template for the rest of the country.”

$75,000 vs. $2.7 Million

When the Washington state government looked at creating something similar to, officials estimated it would require 15 employees and cost $2.7 million to create and take 10 full-time-equivalent employees to maintain. EFF created through the part-time efforts of one analyst and two contract workers. It cost less than $75,000.

The foundation is working to make the site truly comprehensive by including all state and business taxes and all taxes at the city and town level.

Amber Gunn, director of the foundation’s Economic Policy Center, said she hopes the new site poses a challenge to state governments to move forward with putting state and local tax information in one place so people can find it.

“Telling people how much they pay in taxes is a core function of government. It’s our hope that one day Washington will set up an online database that will render obsolete—true government tax transparency,” Gunn said.

Brett Davis ([email protected]) is an economic policy analyst at the Evergreen Freedom Foundation in Olympia, Washington.

For more information …

Evergreen Freedom Foundation’s transparency Web site: