Over the past couple weeks I’ve been posting a bit about budget priorities, pointing out that the decisions we make in Olympia in regard to both taxing and spending, reflect our priorities as a state.
For example, if lawmakers choose to cut yet another couple billion dollars from K-12 education while refusing to even consider the repeal of nonproductive, special interest tax exemptions, well, that reflects our priorities. If the state continues to slash funding and raise tuition at our community colleges and four-year universities at the same time businesses claim they can’t find enough qualified workers in the midst of near record-high unemployment, well, that reflects our priorities too.
And of course, the fact that our state and local governments have steadily shrunk themselves over the past couple decades both as a percentage of the total economy and in the number of FTEs compared to population, that sure as hell reflects our priorities, as does the fact that nationwide, Washington now ranks 45th in spending on K-12 education, but 14th in spending on corrections.
But unfortunately, when I write about stuff like this, I’m mostly ignored. Oh, call out the Seattle Times editorial board for licking Rob McKenna’s balls, and that might earn me a link from some self-anointed arbiter of journalistic integrity, but spend a little time and effort exploring the conventional “government must learn to live within its means” narrative, and refuting it with actual, you know, numbers, well that just elicits a collective yawn from our political press corps. I guess, because, I’m just some foul-mouthed local blogger (as opposed to a real journalist like Joni Balter), so you can just ignore my math, even when it’s lifted directly from the OFM. And… I sometimes use the word “fuck.”
Well, okay then… if you won’t pay attention to little ol’ me, perhaps you’ll listen to State Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, a trained economist, who on the Senate Dems blog writes about how we pride ourselves on being one of the top states in the nation in terms of quality of life, but how we’re increasingly at the bottom of the pack in terms of our willingness to pay for it:
In Washington, we want to be among the top quarter of states in public services, but we’re in the lower-half in amount paid in state and local taxes. In fact, we’re lagging far behind the same mid-West states like North Dakota and Minnesota that Lake Wobegon is meant to poke fun at.
We may laugh at the gap between what people from Lake Wobegon think of themselves and reality, but if Washington levied the same amount of state and local taxes per $1000 of personal income that North Dakota levies – North Dakota – we’d have 29 percent more revenue than we have today. That’s more than $9 billion, which would more than cover our current revenue shortfall, and then some…
In Washington, we have a bigger Lake Wobegon gap than Lake Wobegon does. We’re in the third year of significant recessionary impacts on our state budget. And for the third year in a row, we hear loud talk about making Washington live within its means by cutting state spending to match diminished revenues.
The truth is, state spending compared to personal income has been declining for a decade. And all this talk about “living within our means” masks another important truth: We can’t keep cutting spending without downgrading the public services mentioned above. And if we keep downgrading these same services, we can’t expect to maintain our quality of life, much less improve it.
Both Sen. Brown and I are making the same basic assertion, and we’re making it based not on ideology, but on math. We cannot continue to shrink government, the services it provides and the human and infrastructure investments it makes, while continuing to maintain the quality of life Washingtonians have come to expect.
Republicans and their ball-lickers on the editorial boards would have you believe that we have no choice but to make do with tax revenues that continue to fall even as the economy recovers, but the reality is, thanks in part to the public investment of prior generations, we are a wealthy state that can afford to do more… particularly the wealthiest amongst us. Whether we choose to, well, that reflects our priorities.