Everything that’s wrong with Washington state politics can be summed up by today’s smirk of an editorial in the Seattle Times, “Gasp! Another try at an income tax.”
STATE Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, is reaching for fairy dust in her proposal for a state income tax. It’s not going to happen.
That’s right, the Times ridicules Sen. Brown, not for being misinformed or unserious or on the wrong side of a policy issue, but for merely trying. You wanna know why we elect so many mediocre politicians, incapable or unwilling to display even an ounce of leadership? It’s editorials like this.
See, we hate leadership here in WA state. We hate boldness. Oh, we like to whine over the lack of it, but the minute a politician dares to assert it, or even (“Gasp!”) tries to start a fucking conversation about a difficult issue, we heap scorn on them for their arrogance or giggle at their foolish stray from executing the paramount duty of government: taxing poor people to build more roads.
And as for the Times’ blunt statement that an income tax is simply “not going to happen”…? Oh, you mean like last year’s rail-only Prop 1?
A graduated income tax would require an amendment to the state constitution, meaning a two-thirds vote of both legislative houses and a majority approval of the voters.
No it would not! Jesus… have you even read the goddamn Gates Commission report? (Or, for that matter, your own paper?) The consensus conclusion is that the 1933 decision would likely be overturned. Where did you go to law school? What makes you think you’re a more qualified constitutional scholar than Williams Gates Sr. or Prof. Hugh Spitzer?
Stop lying to your readers.
Even if a 1-percent, flat-rate tax would be constitutional, it would still require approval by voters, who are the very people expected to pay it. Voters have rejected income taxes several times before by landslide margins, and in a time of job cuts and economic worry, would almost certainly do so again.
Actually, a millionaires tax would fall on only 0.1% of the voters asked to approve it, and if precinct results from the last income tax measure are any guide, a majority of these fortunate few would likely vote yes too. And a broader tax on incomes over $200,000 would only fall on 4% of households. But let’s not let details get in the way of your scare tactics.
Advocates have long promoted an income tax as a way to tax fairly, and the people have long suspected that the real motive was to tax more. Here the cynics are admitted to be right. The obvious motive of this proposal is to raise more money for the state.
I mean, God forbid we try to tax people more fairly, right? And who in their right mind would want to raise more revenue at a time we’re slashing hundreds of millions of dollars from K-12 education, eliminating 10,000 slots from our colleges and universities, and kicking 50,000 people off the health care rolls?
Certainly, the state is having a money problem. But people who have lost their jobs or taken deep losses in their retirement investments also have money problems. Their interest is in a quick and vigorous business recovery, which is made less likely by new taxes.
But we’re not talking about taxing people who have lost their jobs, or about taxing people’s retirement investments. We’re talking, under your scenario, about a one percent tax on household incomes over $1 million a year. That means, if even in this economic downturn, you earn $2 million, you’d pay an additional $10,000 in state taxes a year. $10,000 out of $2 million. And we should feel their pain?
Some advocates say they would tax only the high earners. But it doesn’t raise enough money: a 1-percent tax on joint incomes above $1 million would raise less than one-half of 1 percent of state revenues. The state makes its big money in taxing the broad mass of people, which is also the broad mass of voters.
No, a 1-percent tax on millionaires doesn’t solve our budget crisis, but it’s sufficient to maintain outpatient senior care and save a few thousand higher education slots, while still leaving more than enough money left over to pay for that B&O tax reduction on newspapers for which you lobbied so aggressively.
Sen. Brown is said to be interested in being elected governor some day. She might recall the last such candidate who championed an income tax. It was Ron Sims, who was beaten in the Democratic primary by Christine Gregoire.
Hear that, Sen. Brown? The editors at the largest newspaper in our state, our alleged watchdogs of democracy, are cautioning you to choose personal political ambition over taking a bold stance on principle. No, you wouldn’t want to do anything potentially unpopular would you, even if you believe it the right thing to do, because it might cost you the governorship. Just look at Ron Sims.
Like I said, this editorial is an example of everything that’s wrong with Washington politics. Its attitude is a recipe for timidity, gridlock and stagnation, which, not surprisingly, is exactly the situation we find ourselves in today.
So you know what? I say be a leader, do what you think is right, and just tell the Times to piss off. It’s not like you’re going to get their endorsement in four years anyway—that’s going to Republican Rob McKenna—assuming there still is a Seattle Times in four years.
Be bold. A 1-percent tax on millionaires doesn’t raise enough money to satisfy the Times? Then expand it to those households earning over $200,000 a year; at the rates suggested by the EOI, that raises a substantial $2.5 billion per biennium, but still only falls on the top 4% of households.
And then, be creative: put this high-earners income tax on the ballot tied to a half-cent reduction in the state sales tax. 96% of voters would see their taxes go down, even while saving crucial government services. As for the millionaires? Fuck ’em! They’re the Wall Street fatcats who sold out our nation and got us into this mess in the first place, so let them pay to pick up the pieces. (And don’t worry about whether that sentiment is grounded in reality or not, that’s the sentiment that’s out there, so you might as well use it to your advantage. That’s what your opponents would do.)
And the icing on the cake is that our friend Mr. Eyman has made your sales job all the easier, his reprehensible I-960 totally deflating the Times’ inherent slippery-slope argument. Voters don’t trust the Legislature not raise back the sales tax or expand the income tax to reach into the pockets of middle class families? I-960 won’t let you! At least not without a two-thirds majority in both houses, or the approval of voters at the polls. Hey… thanks Tim!
In fact, the Times’ fact-free prognostication to the contrary (they apparently haven’t seen the polling data that shows a high-earners income tax surprisingly popular), now is the perfect time to put such a measure on the ballot. Now is the perfect time to offer a stable social safety net and a cut in the sales tax to struggling families who currently hold little charity toward the wealthy who will be asked to pick up the tab… you know, the same wealthy who benefited most from the bubble that set up this devastating bust. For as the election of Barack Obama and his continued popularity proves, voters are in a mood to take a chance on politicians who are willing to actually do something, even in the face of smug mockery from status quo defenders like the Seattle Times.
Be bold, Sen. Brown. Be creative. Shove this editorial back in the Times’ face, and be a leader, whether you’re ultimately rewarded for it or not.