Word out of Olympia is that momentum toward putting a high-earners income tax measure on the fall ballot is stalling, despite polling whose fundamentals show that an income tax probably has a better chance of passing than the third of a cent sales tax increase the conventional thinkers prefer. There just doesn’t seem to be the stomach for it amongst the House leadership, nor enough clamor from well-healed constituency groups to steel their nerves.
“Next year,” income tax advocates are being told. “Maybe next year.”
Next year would be the worst time for House Speaker Frank Chopp to see an income tax measure on the ballot, helping to turn out Republican votes in the many suburban swing districts on which much of his majority is built. 2011 doesn’t look much better, and then we’re into a gubernatorial election year in 2012, so you can rule that out as well. By “next year,” of course, the powers that be mean “some other year,” which really means “never.”
It’s not the mere prospect of losing this battle that so disappoints me—I didn’t go into it reasonably expecting a win—it’s the manner in which the proposal has been summarily rejected by so many in our Democratic establishment. While the vast majority of folks I’ve approached just seem befuddled at the issue even being raised, I’ve occasionally found myself the target of laughter and eye-rolling and even a little anger. And I’m not talking about the vile trolls in my comment threads or the Seattle Times ed board; some of the worst of it has come from Democratic elected officials and their closest advisers.
There’s a good chance a high-earners income tax ballot measure would fail, and either way, it would certainly be an uphill fight. I know that. I’m not stupid and I’m not naive. But this year, with this economy and this budget crisis, and with Barack Obama newly elected to the White House, was the perfect year to at least start the conversation about progressive tax reform… the polling proves at least that. Yet apart from Senate Majority Lisa Brown, a handful of other legislators, and a couple of constituency groups, the Democratic establishment has largely refused to even enter the debate.
With such an unprecedented revenue shortfall to fill, this was never going to be a satisfying legislative session. But I didn’t expect the process to be just as disappointing as the result.