It is nice to know that at least somebody is willing to speak honestly and openly about both sides of the budget equation:
The chairman of a legislative task force exploring how to improve the way the state pays for K-12 education says a tax increase is the responsible way to pay for the roughly $3 billion worth of ideas in the group’s final report.
Dan Grimm, a former state legislator from Puyallup as well as a two-term state treasurer, said Thursday that he was inspired by a phone call and letter from Gov. Chris Gregoire to propose an extension of the sales tax to services. That would make things such as doctor’s visits and financial advice subject to sales tax.
On Tuesday, the task force voted to approve a proposal that asks for more state money to pay for things such as a longer high school day, smaller class sizes in the younger grades and regionally adjusted pay for teachers. Cost estimates range from $2 billion to $3 billion over each two-year state budget cycle.
[…] Grimm said Gregoire made it clear in their brief phone conversation that if task force members suggested a plan for raising taxes she would support putting that proposal before the voters as a referendum.
Too often we’ve had a one-sided conversation when voting on budget issues, with a rash of statewide initiatives over the past decade that have either mandated new spending or cut existing taxes, with little or no debate about the budgetary intersection between the two. And recently, editorialists have pressured legislators and the governor to ignore the revenue side of the equation in attempting to close our state’s looming $5 billion shortfall. But it’s time to start treating voters like grownups, and have a grownup conversation about education funding and other budget priorities.
The fact is, we spend too little on basic education, and the sorts of increases the panel is suggesting would prove widely popular. But the money has to come from somewhere, and while I don’t dismiss the notion of re-prioritizing existing funds as part of the solution, it would be totally irresponsible and fantastical to attempt to address this issue without at least discussing the revenue side of the equation.
Extending the sales tax to personal and professional services is certainly a reasonable proposal, as year over year these activities make up a larger portion of our economy as opposed to the sale of goods, the ever shrinking segment on which we currently rely for the bulk of state revenues. Raising taxes is never popular with voters or politicians, but if we’re going to talk about increasing spending on education, increasing taxes needs to be part of the conversation.
And perhaps in this context it is also time for elected officials to start talking about an income tax, as either a dedicated tax or part of a broader restructuring that both increases education funds while lowering the overall tax burden for the vast majority of Washington families. For example a Graduated High Income Tax of 3% on joint incomes over $200,000 per year ($100,000 for individuals), and 5% on incomes over $1 million, would raise about $2.6 billion per biennium, while exempting 96% of households. (Yet it would still leave us with a highly regressive tax structure that largely favors the wealthy. Imagine that.)
The point is, there are two sides to the budget equation, and it is both silly and childish to insist on talking about one without talking about the other. Any substantial tax increase or restructuring is going to come before voters, one way or another, so if the anti-tax folks truly represent the sentiment of the majority, they have nothing to fear from an open and honest debate.