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Porn tax: Bill seeks 18.5 percent increase in Washington state

State Rep. Mark Miloscia proposed legislation that would add an 18.5 percent tax on pornographic materials in Washington state.

Proceeds from the extra tax on adult entertainment materials and services, according to House Bill 2103, would go toward the General Assistance Unemployable fund. This state program provides cash and medical benefits for residents who are unable to work due to physical or mental limitations. The fund, which faces a $400 million budget cut, also addresses homelessness.

"If I had to support one tax increase, this is something I would put my name to," said Miloscia, a Democrat who represents District 30, which includes Federal Way. Miloscia said the current economic crisis leaves lawmakers looking for additional sources of money.

The bill has been assigned to a state House committee for Wednesday, Feb. 11. In 2004, a similar bill failed in the Legislature. Although fewer than 10 percent of bills actually pass, Miloscia supports the measure as a way to fuel public discussion.

Other states have considered taxing adult films and paraphernalia. A proposed 25 percent pornography tax died in a committee last year in California, home to a nearly $4 billion-a-year porn industry. One supporter of the California bill predicted the tax would generate $665 million in annual revenue, according to reports.

Should the bill pass the Washington state House and Senate, Miloscia thinks the public would support it. He said losses for businesses that sell pornography would be minimal.

"The purpose is not to put them out of business, but if that happens, I'm not going to cry about it," Miloscia said.

The Family Policy Institute of Washington presented the bill to Miloscia last week.

"We are always in favor of having the government discourage things that are bad for families and encourage things that are good for families," said Joseph Backholm, executive director of the institute. "Divorce is connected to pornography. It is a significant factor in the breakdown of marriage."

Likewise, the institute intends for the proposed legislation to discourage pornography sales and reduce negative social effects associated with porn. The bill does not criminalize porn, but instead targets a high-profit industry that contributes to bad behavior, he said.

"If you were to raise an 18 percent tax on anything, it would generate revenue," said Russell Johnson, lobbyist for the institute who introduced the bill to Miloscia.

Johnson likens the proposal to the tax on smoking. Although smoking cigarettes is a legal activity, the state has the right to tax behavior "deemed not as valuable as other behaviors," he said.

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