Yesterday I posted a couple graphs showing how Washington state has chosen to devote an increasingly larger portion of our economy toward imprisoning our citizens, at the same time we’re devoting an ever smaller portion toward educating them. I leave it to you to judge the wisdom of such spending priorities.
Today’s graph is also about priorities, in that it shows that when push comes to shove over the past fifteen years, our lawmakers have consistently chosen to keep taxes low. Indeed, between 1994 and 2001 WA’s rank in state and local taxes as a percentage of personal income dropped from 11th nationwide to 32nd. And WA has remained below the national average since 2000; it stood at 30th in 2008.
It is true that revenues briefly rebounded between 2003 and 2007, but this was not due to legislative action. Rather, easy consumer credit and a booming housing market spurred consumer spending, resulting in a surge in taxes relative to personal income in this heavily sales tax dependent state. But even this bump in revenue—and subsequent bump in spending, largely to fund the class size and teachers pay initiatives—left both spending and revenue near the bottom end of the fifteen year average.
Republicans and their surrogates on the editorial boards insist that our current budget crisis is the result of profligate government spending, but this simply isn’t true. With consumer spending having collapsed in advance of incomes, and recovering at a much slower pace, combined state and local government in the next biennium will consume a smaller portion of our state economy than at any time in the past three decades, and a substantially smaller portion than it did just fifteen years ago.
So as the Governor and the Legislature prepare to make all those tough budget choices—largely consisting of slashing spending on education and health care—remember… this is their choice. There are two sides to a budget, revenue and spending, and how we balance the two depends on our priorities.
Washington has chosen to become and remain a low tax state, come hell or high water, and with all the negative impact this lack of public investment will bring on future economic growth… not to mention the inevitable immediate suffering of the poor, the sick and the young.