Save Washington’s State University System: Raise Taxes

Danny Westneat has been obsessing over our woeful higher education funding recently, as he should, first with a column pointing out that we would need to expand the number of degrees awarded by 25,000 annually just to keep up with current demand, and now with a column highlighting the utter stupidity of asking our universities to prepare for another 15 percent cut.

Danny’s doing a great job of pointing out the death spiral our state college and university system is facing. But what he hasn’t touched on is the obvious solution: raise taxes.

As you can see in the chart below, the cost of educating each “full time equivalent” student has remained relatively flat over the past 25 years. But as state funding has been slashed, tuition has been hiked to increasingly make up the difference, from about 20 percent of costs in 1960 to about to about 75 percent today. That is a direct shift of costs onto the backs of students and their families, resulting in an explosion of student debt.

To be clear, it’s not the cost of a college education that’s been skyrocketing, it’s the price:

cost of WA state universities flat

The story of rising tuition is the story declining state funding.

So why have we resorted to this dramatic shift from taxpayer funding to ever-higher tuition? The following chart, tracking state taxes per $1,000 of personal income should give you a clue:

Just state taxes per $1,000

Washington State’s tax burden is at a half-century low.

As you can clearly see, our state’s dramatic decline in higher education funding corresponds directly to a dramatic decline in state tax revenue as a percentage of our overall economy. We can have a conversation about how to spend higher education dollars more efficiently if we want. But the inescapable truth is that we’re simply not spending enough money. And we’re not spending enough money because our state taxes are too low.

No we can’t just throw money at the problem. But part of the problem is a lack of money. And just like with our K-12 schools, we simply cannot adequately address this shortfall without raising taxes.

Open Thread (Yesterday?)

Some combination of my ancient computer being a problem while I type on public transit and how I’m using jokes for the date instead of actual dates this week, and I seem to have somehow posted this into the Open Thread for Monday, and I’m not quite sure how to undo it. So I’m reposting it here, as an open thread. Um, sorry to people who really wanted whatever ephemera I’d posted there.

– I know that there is a large group of the chattering class that hate Seattle passing resolutions. But I think this opposition to the Hyde Amendment is right the fuck on.

– Sad face for Mars Hill.

– I’m not sure I’m qualified to say anything about Ray Rice that goes outside of just cliche. But holy shit, Fox News, shut the fuck up.

Redmond will fund Overlake Village bike/walk bridge

We tend to think of activism as an “all-in” sort of affair where one eats, sleeps, and shits the struggle. If you don’t live up to this romanticized notion, you’re a fraud. In reality, many of the people fighting for basic things like access to clean water, good schools, and affordable housing are, in fact, people with lives and families and other responsibilities.

Drinking Liberally — Seattle

DLBottleThe last Tuesday of the primary season is upon us, with primary elections in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, Delaware and Rhode Island. (Okay…we’re ignoring the 13 Sept primary in the U.S. Virgin Islands.) So please join us this evening for some electoral politics over a pint at the Seattle Chapter of Drinking Liberally.

We meet tonight and every Tuesday evening at the Roanoke Park Place Tavern, 2409 10th Ave E, Seattle. The starting time is 8:00 pm, but some folks show up before that for dinner.

Can’t make it to Seattle? Check out another Washington state chapter of Drinking Liberally over the next week. The Tri-Cities, Shelton, and Vancouver, WA chapters also meet on Tuesday. On Wednesday, the Bellingham chapter meets. The Bremerton chapter meets on Thursday. And next Monday, the Aberdeen and Yakima chapters meet.

With 203 chapters of Living Liberally, including seventeen in Washington state, three in Oregon and three in Idaho, chances are excellent there’s a chapter meeting somewhere near you.

Apparently, Not Even the Seattle Times Editorial Board Reads Seattle Times Editorials

So I’m wreaking havoc in the other Washington for a few days, but that doesn’t stop me from reading the Seattle Times editorial page. (Because I’m stoopid.) And for obvious reasons, I just couldn’t wait to click through to the following headline: “Washington’s tuition stability good for students, GET program.”

WASHIINGTON’S prepaid tuition plan rebounded into financial solvency on the wings of a rebounding stock market and a shift in legislative policy. That’s good news for the state: In 2013, the Guaranteed Education Tuition (GET) program was underfunded by $631 million. Absent the rebound, Washington would’ve been on the hook.

But the real winners in the rebound are Washington college students and their families, whether they had GET accounts or not. The prepaid plan’s deficit had been compounded by a ruinous state policy of huge tuition increases.

But if you were expecting the editors to eat a little well-deserved crow, think again. Absolutely zero mention of the editorial board’s prior advocacy to shut down GET at a taxpayer cost of $1.7 billion. Though in their defense, perhaps not even Seattle Times editors can bear to read the paper’s awful editorial pages.

One other comment, though:

The Legislature wisely reversed the gouge on college students and froze tuition increases for the past two years.

To be clear, freezing tuition after four years of double-digit increases is good. But the legislature has not “reversed the gouge.” Lawmakers who paid an inflation-adjusted $2,500 a year for their own tuition a generation ago have still left today’s students paying around $13,000. It would take a couple decades of tuition freezes to truly reverse the gouge. And we all know that’s not likely to happen.

So if the editors truly care about Washington college students and their families, they would marshal their advocacy on behalf of raising the tax revenue necessary to both add capacity and restore some fiscal balance to our state college and university system.

Open Thread (Today)

- I know that there is a large group of the chattering class that hate Seattle passing resolutions. But I think this opposition to the Hyde Amendment is right the fuck on.

– Sad face for Mars Hill.

– I’m not sure I’m qualified to say anything about Ray Rice that goes outside of just cliche. But holy shit, Fox News, shut the fuck up.

Redmond will fund Overlake Village bike/walk bridge

We tend to think of activism as an “all-in” sort of affair where one eats, sleeps, and shits the struggle. If you don’t live up to this romanticized notion, you’re a fraud. In reality, many of the people fighting for basic things like access to clean water, good schools, and affordable housing are, in fact, people with lives and families and other responsibilities.

HA Bible Study: Nahum 1:2-6

Nahum 1:2-6
The Lord is a jealous God, filled with vengeance and rage. He takes revenge on all who oppose him and continues to rage against his enemies!

The Lord is slow to get angry, but his power is great, and he never lets the guilty go unpunished. He displays his power in the whirlwind and the storm. The billowing clouds are the dust beneath his feet.

At his command the oceans dry up, and the rivers disappear. The lush pastures of Bashan and Carmel fade, and the green forests of Lebanon wither.

In his presence the mountains quake, and the hills melt away; the earth trembles, and its people are destroyed.

Who can stand before his fierce anger? Who can survive his burning fury? His rage blazes forth like fire, and the mountains crumble to dust in his presence.


Friday Night Multimedia Extravaganza!

That Canadian Immigrant:

Mark Fiore: The Presidential Painsuit.

Puppet Nation: ISIS Schmisis.

Cheap Labor:

Liberal Viewer: Nutburger Peter King’s bogus claim that al Qaeda planned to attack Ft. Knox.

Sharpton: Republicans go into warp-drive trivial by attacking Obama’s tan suit.

The Wrong Guys:

Mental Floss: 40 tremendous college traditions.

Sharpton: Right Wingers preaching impeachment to their racist teabagger base.

A Batty Story:

Richard Fowler: Go figure…Medicare is not such a budget-buster anymore.

Sharpton: Carpetbagger Scott Walker enlists out-of-state supporters for Senate election

What’s Black and Brown and Red All Over?

Obama visits Stonehenge.

Maddow: Rand’s burdens.

Puppet Nation: NATO Plays with itself.

The Politician–Industrial Complex:

Some nutjob Republican tries to argue that health care can be harmful to health.

ONN: The Onion Week in Review.

Fruits of the Political Season:

White House: West Wing Week.

Pap: Republican obstructionism shapes Obama’s legacy

Young Turks: Dumbass politician from Oklahoma warns Christians about ALL Muslims.

Old McDonnell Had a Pen:

Puppet Nation: Burger King hates America.

Jimmy Dore calls Mitt Romney:

Last week’s Friday Night Multimedia Extravaganza can be found here.

I-594’s First TV Ad Hits WA Airwaves

“Our background check law has stopped over 40,000 people in Washington State—felons, domestic abusers, you name it—from getting guns,” says former Bellingham Police chief Don Pierce in the first TV ad from I-594 sponsor Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility.

“But there’s a dangerous loophole in the law,” Pierce explains: “Criminals who fail a background check can simply go online, or to a gun show, and buy a gun from a stranger, no questions asked. 594 closes that loophole, helping keep guns out of the hands of criminals. Close the background check loophole,” Pierce urges, “vote Yes on 594.”

Hard to argue with that.

The problem NRA folks will have with truthfully refuting I-594’s message is that at their worst, background checks are little more than a nuisance. But it’s a nuisance that most gun owners have already gone through to purchase their current firearms, so it’s not like the prospect of closing this loophole is all that scary.

So don’t expect a truthful response.

[Full disclosure: I'm biased!]

State Taxpayers Save $1.7 Billion by Not Following Seattle Times Advice to Close GET Program

Hey, remember how just a year and a half ago the oh so wise Seattle Times editorial board vociferously (and dishonestly) backed up Rodney Tom’s call to shut down GET (the state’s Guaranteed Education Tuition Plan), deriding it as “too generous,” while arguing that “lawmakers should be seriously concerned about a projected $631 million future shortfall” in the program?

“Closing GET to new enrollees would cause a $1.7 billion hit to the state treasury,” the editors wrote in January 2013, back when they were editorializing in favor of, you know, closing GET to new enrollees. And yet just 19 months later, according to today’s Seattle Times, GET is now funded at 106 percent of obligations:

The state’s prepaid college tuition is no longer underfunded, and has fully recovered from the recession.

That’s right: following the editors’ sage advice would have cost Washington taxpayers an unnecessary $1.7 billion, while eliminating our state’s only college savings option that allows middle-class families to securely plan for their children’s college education. Oops. Not that this wasn’t entirely predictable. As I explained in my contemporaneous fisking of this insane editorial:

Why the fuck would we want to lock in a $1.7 billion loss that we’d never have to pay if we’d just fund higher education at the level we all say we want to fund it? I mean, that’s just crazy. Inflation has averaged between 2 and 3 percent over the past few decades. Limit tuition increases to 7.5 percent a year and the GET program easily outgrows its shortfall.

As it turns out, the legislature ended up freezing tuition for two years. That and a booming stock market predictably led to GET’s full and speedy recovery.

Seriously… where do these clowns get off telling us how to run a government? Nobody should ever, ever, ever listen to their budgetary advice.

Truth to Power: We Can’t Fund McCleary Without Raising Taxes

The Washington State Supreme Court held a hearing yesterday to give state lawyers a chance to explain why the legislature should not be held in contempt for failing to make adequate progress toward meeting the terms of the court’s landmark McCleary decision. And while I’ve seen a ton of media coverage on the hearing, I haven’t seen much mention of the ginormous elephant standing quietly in the back of the courtroom: taxes.

In McCleary, the court ruled that the state was failing to meet its constitutional “paramount duty” to amply fund our K-12 schools. Exactly how much more money McCleary requires the state to spend on basic education is unclear, but we’re talking billions. Roughly an additional $4.5 billion in the 2017-2019 biennial budget. Give or take. That’s equivalent to over 13 percent of our current $34 billion biennial budget!

And the honest to God truth is that there is simply no way to meet this obligation without raising tax revenue. Everybody knows it. There isn’t $4.5 billion in waste, fraud, or abuse available to cut. So there are only two choices: raise revenue, or defy the court.

If I wielded the unfettered powers of a benevolent dictator I’d just overhaul our entire antiquated tax structure and replace much of it with an adequate, fair, and sustainable income tax. Problem solved. But our non-dictatorial democratically elected legislators aren’t entirely without options either.

The first revenue item on the table should be a substantial hike in the state property tax, which is, after all, a school levy. Given our current fiscal crisis it is just plain stupid that the state is currently using only $2.39 per $1,000 of value (and falling!) out of its $3.60 per $1,000 of value statutory cap. We can’t responsibly use it all, for various technical reasons, but we could generate at least another $1 billion per biennium in state property taxes, easy.

Next (and I know this is being bandied about in some circles in Olympia) the state could raise at least another $1 billion or so per biennium through a targeted capital gains tax that only hit, say, the top one half of one percent of Washington households. It would be a new tax, with some ramp up time and administrative overhead, so it’s not as easy as just hiking the property tax, but it’s perfectly doable.

Hike the state school levy, tax capital gains, close a few hundred million dollars in unproductive tax “preferences,” and cross your fingers that a strong economy bumps up other revenues, and before you know it the supremes could be congratulating legislators on a job well done. But let’s not pretend that we have a snowball’s chance of meeting McCleary without raising taxes. It just can’t be done.

The sad truth is, we have more than just a structural revenue deficit in Olympia. We have a structural honesty deficit. And we can’t begin to address the former until we fix the latter.


Open Thread 9/4

- I guess there’s a game of foot sports today. Given how crazy the city got for preseason foot sports, it might be a good idea to leave downtown right now.

Phyllis Schlafly has great ideas that sure sound neat.

So if you could use a Taser instead of killing someone, then logically a civilized society would want police to have them. But I see no reason for Tasers to even be in the hands of cops if that’s the way they’re going to look at it.

– It’s tough to see potential February Metro cuts.

– Pumpkin Spice is a real sign that this too hot summer is ending, so I’ll take it.

If Only the Celis Campaign Could Replace Celis

Republican challenger Pedro Celis’s chances of toppling Eric Cantor just got a little bit better. To bad for him, though, that he’s running against Democratic incumbent Suzan DelBene:

After a shaky primary-election showing, Republican congressional candidate Pedro Celis has reshuffled his campaign, replacing his campaign manager and hiring a pair of young strategists who helped tea-party challenger Dave Brat beat House Majority Leader Eric Cantor earlier this year.

Brat’s campaign manager, Zachary Werrell, is now managing Celis’ campaign, replacing local Republican strategist Don Skillman, who had been campaign manager for the primary. Gray Delany, another Brat campaign staffer, is now Celis’ campaign spokesman.

Uh-huh. He can blame his former staffers all he wants, but the problem, according to people who have watched Celis in action, is that he is just an awful candidate. Flat. Unoriginal. Uninspiring.

This was supposed to be a competitive race: a first term Democrat in a midterm election being challenged by a well-financed Republican in a swing district. But the Republicans simply did not field a competitive candidate.

Institutional Racism. It’s a Thing. And I Can Prove It.

Writing in the New York Times, op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof recently pushed back against the notion many American whites have that racism isn’t really the vexing national crisis that it used to be. To this end Kristof lists several uncomfortable statistics illustrating the stark inequality between the races in areas like income, educational attainment, incarceration rates, life expectancy, and so forth, including the following headline grabbing bullet point:

The net worth of the average black household in the United States is $6,314, compared with $110,500 for the average white household, according to 2011 census data. The gap has worsened in the last decade, and the United States now has a greater wealth gap by race than South Africa did during apartheid.

These are all indisputable facts. But you don’t need a bunch of statistics to intuit the reality about racial inequity in America. Just look at the composition and layout of our communities: 150 years since the end of slavery, and a half century after Congress passed the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, socioeconomic lines and color lines are still largely one and the same in what remains a profoundly racially segregated nation.

Why? Well, if you think about it logically, there can really be only two explanations. Either African Americans (and other non-white communities) are being held back by institutional racism… or nonwhites are, on average, racially inferior.

Feel free to argue the latter explanation if you like, although there is no science to support it. And even if you insist that there is some sort of cultural, rather than genetic inferiority that is holding back black Americans, that still doesn’t let you off the white supremacist hook.

So if we accept the premise that we are all more or less born equal (and what could be more American than that?), how else can we explain the stark disparity in life outcomes that stubbornly sticks to racial lines? Institutional racism is the only logical explanation.

If we define “institutional racism” as any kind of system of inequality based on race, then that is what we have here in America. The outcome is the proof.


Open Thread 9/2

- In a previous open thread, I had mentioned that Tim Eyman was probably just looking to part suckers from their money by opposing the local minimum wages. Andrew at NPI has more.

– It is really awful that a woman was killed biking on 2nd Ave. And yeah, what Seattlish said about comments for these types of stories.

Now race relations are arguably worse than when Obama took office, and so is Iraq, and this is a rare case where you can fairly say people on “both sides” blame the president — mostly wrongly.

On The Public Shaming of Private Individuals

– Your semi-regular reminder that Miranda July is brilliant.

Reality was always overrated.