If it walks like a tax and talks like a tax …

Clark County Commissioner Tom Mielke can generally be counted on to be pro-business, lobbying for fee holidays or for the public to take on a greater share of the costs of growth.

But it turns out there’s one type of business Mielke does think should pay more money: newspapers.

Two weeks ago during board time, Mielke passed around an ordinance he’d written that would impose a “litter fee” on “every person engaging within the business of printing a newspaper, publishing a newspaper, or both, within Clark County, Washington.”

The “litter fee” would equal the gross income of the business multiplied by 0.1936 percent. Mielke proposed that the funds “will be used exclusively for use of a healthier community through Clark County Health Department.”

Commissioner Marc Boldt said the “litter fee” sounds like a business and occupation tax, which the county doesn’t have the authority to impose.

John Wiesman, director of Clark County Public Health, wasn’t at the meeting. Asked whether he knew Mielke was trying to charge newspapers to support the health department, Wiesman said no.

Always the diplomat, Wiesman wrote in an email: “Sometimes Commissioners advocate for programs and services in advance of working with the department.”

Later, “to keep Tom happy,” as he put it, Boldt emailed Clark County Chief Civil Deputy Prosecutor Bronson Potter for his opinion on whether the “litter fee” was a B&O tax.

“Yes, the proposed tax would fit the definition of a business and occupation tax,” Potter wrote. “That is a tax imposed upon the gross revenue of the business.”

“Municipalities have no inherent power of taxation,” Potter wrote. “The county cannot impose a tax absent a constitutional or legislative authorization. Wash. State. Const. Art. VII and XI. There is no authority for a county to impose a B&O tax.”

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