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Originally published Tuesday, November 30, 2010 at 3:13 PM

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Gov. Gregoire appoints Suzan DelBene to cabinet

Former congressional candidate Suzan DelBene was appointed director of the state Department of Revenue on Tuesday, with Gov. Chris Gregoire saying that the former Microsoft executive "has the knowledge, skills and experience needed to guide the agency through what is a transformative time for the department and the state."

Associated Press

OLYMPIA, Wash. —

Former congressional candidate Suzan DelBene was appointed director of the state Department of Revenue on Tuesday, with Gov. Chris Gregoire saying that the former Microsoft executive "has the knowledge, skills and experience needed to guide the agency through what is a transformative time for the department and the state."

DelBene was the Democratic candidate for the 8th Congressional District this year. She lost to Republican incumbent Dave Reichert.

Gregoire said that while most may know DelBene from her congressional run, "the one thing she said that captured my attention when she ran was that she knows how business works, and that's exactly what we need."

Gregoire recently hired DelBene's former campaign spokesman, Scott Whiteaker, to the governor's communications staff. Gregoire said there's no political maneuvering at hand.

"There's no eye to anything, other than we have a critical need right now of someone who is absolute business savvy," she said.

DelBene wouldn't rule out another run for Congress, saying "right now, I'm focused on doing this."

"I clearly want to make a difference here and help out however I can," she said.

DelBene replaces Cindi Holmstrom, who headed the state Revenue Department since 2005. Holmstrom is leaving to work for a private consulting group. DelBene starts Dec. 16, and her annual salary will be $147,000.

DelBene has been a top executive for two technology startups, including Drugstore.com, and she was also an executive at Microsoft Corp., handling part of the software giant's mobile ventures. She spent more than $2 million of her own money in her campaign against Reichert.

Gregoire says DelBene's business experience makes her the right person head an initiative to simplify the state's tax code to help small businesses.

Gregoire noted that in addition to the state sales tax rate of 6.5 percent, there are more than 300 additional local rates, and dozens of business and occupation tax classifications.

She said that businesses are frustrated with the current tax system's complexity.

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"If we can make it simpler for them to understand what tax rate they should charge, they can put more emphasis and more time in growing their business," Gregoire said.

The department will look for ways to simplify the code, but any changes would be need to be made by the Legislature, Department of Revenue spokesman Mike Gowrylow said.

Gregoire also said that she wants the department to increase tax compliance of both in-state and out-of-state companies. She directed the department to hire several more auditors and tax return examiners to be hired to increase compliance, which could bring in nearly $20 million through the end of the current fiscal year in June.

Gowrylow said the department will be able to hire for those positions immediately because there are several unfilled positions.

The legislative session begins Jan. 10, but Gregoire has been pushing for a special session in December to help to patch the current state budget, which covers general spending through June 2011. Gregoire made across-the-board cuts to many programs earlier this year, but the deficit recently grew by about $385 million because of slow growth in tax collections.

Gregoire also said she'll be asking the Legislature to authorize an amnesty period, from Feb. 1 to May 1, for businesses that face penalties and interest on taxes that they haven't yet paid.

"Those businesses can save cash, on the condition they pay in full," she said.

Gowrylow said that 50,000 companies owe the state money, and that likely 10,000 would come forward and voluntarily pay if they knew they would not have to pay penalties or interest. The move could bring the state $24.4 million through the end of June.

"This is a way to bring in revenue quickly by enticing people to pay now rather than pay later," he said.

---

Online:

http://www.governor.wa.gov

http://www.dor.wa.gov

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