If I were still working at The Stranger or free to blog full time here on HA, all I would be writing about right now is Governor Jay Inslee’s welcome new tax proposal. After years of stupidly austere all-cuts budgeting, Inslee has finally made the boldly responsible move to propose significant new revenue: $1.4 billion from new capital gains and carbon taxes in the next biennium. (And yes, it is an awful commentary on our political culture that I just strung together the phrase “boldly responsible.”)
Kudos Mr. Governor.
But of course, I’m not still Slogging or blogging full time, so I don’t have the time to go into the details. But what I will say is that as politically risky as a tax increase is traditionally presumed to be, Inslee’s proposal puts state Republicans in a much less enviable position than they might at first imagine.
As I have previously written, Washington State is on the verge of a constitutional crisis. It is simply mathematically impossible to meet the state Supreme Court’s McCleary mandate to fully fund K-12 education, without raising substantial new revenue. Can’t be done. There simply isn’t enough truly discretionary spending left in the general fund (let alone the mythical budget items waste, fraud, and abuse) to “reprioritize” to public schools. Inslee’s tax proposal is a recognition of that cold hard truth.
So when the Republican-controlled Senate rejects Inslee’s tax plan (and they will), what will they propose in its stead? Politically suicidal cuts like double-digit tuition hikes, emptying our state prisons, and eliminating health and human services? Or will they just defy the McCleary mandate, leaving the state in contempt of court?
Obviously, the latter.
To make matters worse for Republicans, how do they plan to pay for the twice deferred transportation funding package? Their own constituents are demanding long-promised road maintenance and expansion projects—projects Inslee’s carbon tax would fund. So if they reject the carbon tax, this leaves Republicans in the uncomfortable position of either opposing freeway expansion or championing an always unpopular gas tax! Pick your poison, GOPers.
No doubt Republicans thought they wanted to run against Inslee in 2016 as a tax-and-spender, but his budget puts them in a bit of quandary: Either they propose an alternative that finally names exactly which popular programs they seek to gut, or they risk branding themselves as obstructionists against funding roads and public schools—two programs that are broadly popular with voters, even their own tightfisted constituents.
Again, they’ll choose the latter, driving our state into a constitutional crisis and our roads and highways into further disrepair. And Inslee won’t just ask voters to reelect him in 2016, he’ll ask voters to give him the Democratic majority necessary to actually get shit done.