The Seattle Times thinks that Gov. Chris Gregoire’s budget is too high because it leaves the state with projected budget deficits out into the future.
Well, yeah… but even a budget that merely keeps pace with growth in demand for public services (which roughly tracks growth in personal income) would result in projected budget deficits out into the future. In fact, even if we ratchet government down and only try to have spending keep pace with population growth plus inflation, we’ll still end up with budget deficits projected indefinitely out into the future.
That is because we have an inadequate and unfair tax structure that simply cannot keep pace with our economy, resulting in a structural budget deficit as far as the eye can see.
For too long the state has dealt with this structural deficit by delaying investment in critical infrastructure. The result is a multi-billion dollar backlog in transportation maintenance and construction, and a higher education system that’s fails to accommodate all our state’s college bound students… and at an ever increasing tuition cost. Spending per K-12 student is amongst the lowest in the nation, and Spokane and Seattle area teacher salaries adjusted for local cost of living are near the bottom of the 100 largest metropolitan areas nationwide.
There is a popular fiction — which the Times editorial board fails to refute — that Washington is a high tax state. It is not. In fact, it’s rather middling. And average state and local taxes as a percentage of personal income have dropped steadily since I moved here in 1992. I pay no state income tax, and while my property taxes have more than doubled since I purchased my home in 1997, they are less than half that of a similar house in the Philadelphia suburb in which I was raised.
A tax structure that heavily relies on taxing the sale of goods simply cannot sustain adequate revenue growth in our 21st Century service economy. It has also created the most regressive state and local tax structure in the nation.
If you earn less than $20,000 a year you live in the highest taxed state in the union. If you earn over $200,000 a year you live in one of the lowest. Unless and until we reform our tax structure so as to tax all families more fairly, we will never adequately address our state’s long term structural budget deficit. And we’ll never have a fair and adequate tax structure until we implement an income tax.