I agree wholeheartedly with the headline, if not the text of a recent Seattle Times editorial: “Washington state’s finances require long-term solutions.”
Of course, the one long-term solution the Times doesn’t mention is tax restructuring… you know, reforming our tax system so that revenues actually keep pace with growth in the economy, while distributing the burden more efficiently and fairly. That’s to be expected from the Times ed board, which on revenue issues has pretty much become a mouthpiece of the state GOP.
But the editorial does make one argument that’s as applicable to the revenue side of the equation as it is to the spending, and which progressives should heed as we attempt to deal with this unprecedented budget crisis:
Opponents will say that such suggestions don’t produce that much money in this budget period, and they will be right. These are ideas for the long term — and now is a really good time to consider them.
This is, of course, exactly the argument I’ve been hearing from many of my fellow Democrats whenever I advocate for a high-earner’s income tax as part of the solution to the current fiscal crisis. It can’t produce revenue fast enough, I was told last year as legislators battled to put together a two-year budget in the face of record revenue shortfalls. It can’t produce revenue fast enough, I’m being told this year, as legislators prepare to fill an additional $2.6 billion gap. And no doubt the same argument will be used to brush aside the suggestion again in 2011 and 2012, as the state struggles to deal with what are becoming perennial revenue shortfalls.
An income tax is a distraction, I’m told, that only complicates the political machinations necessary to assure that some sort of tax increase be a part of the current budget negotiations.
Yeah, well, the problem with this line of reasoning is that while implementing an income tax can never be a short-term solution, it’s exactly the kind of long-term solution we need to make sure that more short-term solutions won’t be as necessary in the future. And with the budget crisis — and the unpopular cuts it necessitates — fresh in voters minds, now is the best opportunity we’ve had in decades to get some sort of income tax approved by voters.
Wait until we don’t have a short-term budget crisis, and there won’t be the popular will to swallow and accept an otherwise unpopular long-term reform.
The Times editors and their fellow Republicans are thinking long-term; they want to use this crisis to permanently shrink the size of state and local government and cripple its ability to provide the services people want. They may not be willing to come out and say it, but they are advocating for a paradigm shift, in which government plays a much smaller role in our local economy, and a much smaller role in funding health, welfare, education and public infrastructure.
We should be thinking long-term too.