As I’ve written before, I’m rather agnostic about the specifics of HB 2261, the education reform bill that supposedly expands the definition of basic education, but includes no funding mechanism to actually pay for it. In fact, at the same time legislators are patting themselves on the backs for bucking the teachers union to pass this bill, they’re also preparing to cut $2 billion from K-12 education. And that’s an odd definition of reform.
I know there’s a lot of mumbling in Olympia about how this reform bill will serve as a necessary roadmap for setting funding priorities once the economy, and thus the budget, recovers, but I’m not so sure I buy the thesis that the budget will ever fully recover. Rather, without some sort of structural revenue reform, I think we’ll more than likely look back on this crisis as marking a permanent ratcheting down of state spending power, and thus a permanent ratcheting down of state services and infrastructure investments. Even under a run of the mill economic recovery (and few economists expect even that) it’s hard to imagine state coffers recovering to pre-recession levels as either a percentage of personal income, or inflation-adjusted per capita revenue, let alone increasing to the level necessary to support the type of new spending promised.
So where will the extra money come from?
As the Washington Education Association angrily points out, the backers of this education reform bill can’t tell you, because to be honest, they don’t really have a plan to pay for these reforms. But rather than just putting together angry YouTubes (however righteous), perhaps the WEA might want to accept their legislative defeat, and then fill the void by proposing a funding plan themselves.
I think you all know where I’m going with this.
As the Seattle Times’ Andrew Garber reports today, yet another poll shows a high-earners income tax, while far from a sure thing with voters, is anything but DOA:
A recent survey by Seattle pollster Stuart Elway found that 53 percent of voters questioned were “inclined to favor” an income tax on individuals making $250,000 or households earning $500,000.
The poll also found that 51 percent of voters questions favored small increase in the sales tax increase to help fund the Basic Health Plan.
Writing about the poll results, Elway said, “Although Washington voters are open to the discussion of tax increases to help close the $9 billion state government budget gap, they remain to be convinced. It will not be an easy sell, but most will not slam the door in your face if you bring up the subject.”
By my count that’s the third poll to show a high-earners income tax polling in the low to mid 50’s, and while one generally wants ballot measures to start off at least 10 points higher, it’s a damn sight better than anybody had expected going into this debate. And to the “experts” who insist that’s not good enough, I say tell me… when do you ever expect conditions to get any better?
Remember, an income tax was approved at the polls in 1932 by a 70% margin, yet a similar constitutional amendment was handedly rejected by voters just two years later. Sometimes, the time is just right.
So, yeah, that’s my advice to the WEA… the time is right. If the Legislature won’t show you the money, then be proactive and show it to them: a high-earners income tax. It’ll never happen without your support… and without some sort of substantive revenue reform, these education reforms will never be fully funded.