“Why am I here?” It is a profound question, and one every Democratic lawmaker in Olympia should ask themselves during the final weeks of this chaotic session, especially when it comes to the issue of whether to put a revenue proposal on the fall ballot.
Why did you run for public office in the first place? What exactly brought you to Olympia? And when you retire (voluntarily or otherwise), how will you judge the success of your legislative career?
Over the past five years or so I have had the opportunity to talk one on one with a number of Democratic legislators, and I think it safe to say that an overwhelming majority agree with me, at least in principle, on the necessity of revenue reform. There is near unanimity in the Democratic caucuses that our current tax system is overwhelmingly regressive and unfair, and a strong consensus that it is also inadequate and unsustainable as is… that there exists a long term structural revenue deficit that, regardless of the economic cycle, virtually assures that the ability of state government to deliver services and invest in infrastructure will gradually erode over time.
Privately, off the record, most Democratic legislators will tell you that they support an income tax, and that they truly believe such reform to be in the best interest of the people of Washington state. And the majority of them even have at least a basic understanding as to why. But I am now pretty confident that a majority of Democratic legislators also believe an income tax to be a political impossibility… that it will never happen, and that it is futile to even try.
And it is these conflicted naysayers most of all who should ask themselves the question: “Why am I here?”
Did you come to Olympia simply to balance the budget as best you can? To do less damage to our environment, our schools and our social safety net than your Republican counterparts? Did you really come to Olympia to fix problems in the short term that you full well know our structural deficit will inevitably unfix over time? Are you comfortable being caretakers of our state’s slow decline?
If you understand that we need to move toward an income tax, yet cannot imagine a path toward getting there, why bother even showing up? Shouldn’t you just step aside and make room for somebody who is at least willing to try?
And no, that’s not meant to be a rhetorical question.