We live in the most “tax regressive” state in the nation. Because Washington State depends on sales tax, a consumption tax, the poorest among us pay the most as a percentage of their income. Those who can least afford it pay up to 17% while the wealthy pay the least, about 5% on average. Additionally, payroll and B&O (Business and Occupation) taxes are detrimental to business and discourage investment in our economy.
The best tax solution for our state is a balance of consumption (sales), property (wealth), and income (graduated) taxes on individuals and businesses. This would eliminate most of the “tax-incentives” that we must give to businesses to start or locate here, by creating a fair tax system that doesn’t overwhelmingly burden small segments of our population. If the system is fair to begin with, we won’t need loopholes and incentives to make it work.
The ability to get goods and services to market and people to their jobs is an essential component of a vibrant economy. It’s also time for Vancouver to join the economic engine in Portland just across the river.
We as taxpayers have made the commitment to invested in ourselves through the “nickel package” (Passed in 2004) and the 9.5-cent package (sustained at the polls). These investments have built nearly 450 projects big and small, all around the state. Some are just being completed now. However, that money is bonded for the next 20 years. We bonded it in order to get the full amount today, in order to build those projects. In other words, the money spent.
To build any new project, we will need additional revenue. The Democratic House has passed its package (based on a gas tax) and the Republican Senate has not – hasn’t even gotten it to the floor for a vote in two years! This has led to a lot of missed opportunities to continue improving our infrastructure. The state Senate’s latest proposal includes less than 1% for SW Washington, despite the fact that we are home to more than 6% of the state’s population. This means they are offering less than $100 million out of a nearly $9 billion package. This imbalance is unacceptable to legislators from SW Washington. We need and deserve more than just an increased gas tax with no benefit!
This year marks the first time in 18 years that our state does not have a capital budget program, because of the obstructionist efforts of our Republican State Senate.
This lack of capital budget means the loss of approximately 120 new classrooms for kids in Kindergarten through 3rd Grade in the Vancouver School District alone. Not having new classrooms means that current classrooms will be even more crowded. Studies have shown that early learning years are the most formative years for any child, and overcrowded classrooms limit students’ ability to succeed.
Additionally, the Washington State Supreme Court’s McCleary Decision will be sucking the air out of the room next session when the legislature needs to step up and make another down payment on fulfilling our “Paramount Duty” in the state constitution to fully fund education by the 2018 legislative session. Last year, we committed $1 billion. Next year, we are committed to more than $4 billion.
I sincerely hope that the Republicans next year will offer more than just slogans and arguments with the court, and that they will propose real cash revenue. The “reforms” they propose are really just moving money around. We aren’t going to find the money to invest in our state’s children in the seat cushions! We need new revenue streams — and yes, that means taxes. We need $1.5-$2 billion. That’s some serious money!
LABOR AND UNIONS
Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal” legislation, the G.I. Bill, and unionism built the middle class. Two years ago, the legislature passed reforms that we in the Washington State House proposed. These reforms to the Labor and Industries Agency saved the state nearly $500 million over the past two years, with more to be implemented. However, reasonable reform takes time. We need to remember that this program exists as an agreement, an insurance program from nearly 100 years ago that gave the state a monopoly in worker’s compensation insurance in exchange for a ban on job-related worksite lawsuits. The program’s job is to heal the injured worker and promote worker safety. It is not to simply offer employer refunds, although many employers get refunds because of their worker safety ratings and programs! This is the only program in the nation that has the employee pay a share of the cost of the system. In all other states, it’s only the employer that pays the premiums.
It’s a good thing to live in Washington! The Washington Health Care Exchange has enrolled about 500,000 citizens in Medicaid and individual health plans. No longer can you be denied health care because of pre-existing conditions like diabetes or cancer. No longer can you be denied health care because you’re young and cannot afford a plan of your own. No longer is your health care dollar going to line the pocket of the CEO but instead 80% is going to provide health care for yourself and others. The average government assistance is over $100 dollars a month.
Some will pay more; some will pay less to have meaningful health coverage. But all will have basic coverage that will eventually give us better health outcomes and save us all some money.
Worldwide, nobody wants the system we have. Not one nation is thinking of privatizing their health care system. We can do better.