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Good news from the (upper) left coast

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Democrats lost governorships in New Jersey and Virginia, and gay rights suffered a setback in Maine. But here in Washington State, the election brought good news for progressives.

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Voters approved Referendum 71, an "everything but marriage" law that expands the rights of gay couples. See this article.

Voters appear to have soundly rejected anti-tax Initiative 1033, which would have limited tax increases to the rate of inflation plus population growth (with excess taxes going back to citizens in the form of lower real estate taxes). Vote counting continues, but currently I-1033 is losing, with 55% of voters saying "no".

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I-1033 was the brainchild of anti-tax crusade Tim Eyman, who over the years has submitted a dozen or so initiatives to limit the growth of government.

Eyman has conceded defeat on I-1033.

This year's anti-tax Initiative 1033 was particularly obnoxious, because it came in the wake of the subprime crash and recession, which resulted in a $9 billion state deficit. Since Washington State's constitution requires a balanced budget, the state was forced to slash human services and to raise tuition at state universities. Eyman's I-1033 would have limited state spending to the unnaturally low levels resulting from the crash.

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Conservatives really love what Bush did to the country: he left things in shambles, forcing cuts to government spending and allowing Republicans to blame Democrats for the inevitable pain. Drown government in the bathtub, huh?

The third piece of good news was the triumph of Dow Constantine, a progressive Democrat who supports unions, environmentalism, and women's rights, over closet Republican Susan Hutchison for the position of King County executive. Hutchison ran as an independent -- in fact, the King County executive position is a nonpartisan position -- but she has close ties to Republicans. A former television newscaster, Hutchison had no political experience. She served on the board of the conservative Discovery Institute, which has been promoting the theory of Intelligent Design. Hutchison donated money to George W. Bush and to conservative causes.

King County comprises the area around Seattle, its wealthy eastern suburbs, and its less wealthy southern suburbs.

Opponents of I-1033 mounted a vigorous campaign to oppose the initiative, including TV ads, phonebanking, online activism, and literature handouts. In 1992 Colorado voters passed an anti-tax initiative similar to I-1033. As described here, the results were painful. "The proportion of low-income children with no health insurance doubled. Colorado's per capita funding for education dropped to 49th in the nation. The state couldn't afford to vaccinate children entering school to help protect against diseases like whooping cough. From 2001 to 2006, employment grew in Colorado by less than half a percent, while employment grew in surrounding states by an average of nine percent. Things got so bad that voters suspended the law in 2005."

A big challenging facing Washington State progressives is to convince voters to support the establishment of a progressive income tax. Washington is one of the few states to have no state income tax, and it has one of the most regressive tax systems in the nation. The state constitution specifies that all property must be taxed at a flat rate, so establishing a progressive income tax might require amending the state constitution -- no easy task. In fact, while the constitutionality of a progressive income tax would likely be challenged in court, many experts believe that progressive tax on income (not "property") could survive constitutional challenges.

Washington State's house and senate are both controlled by strong Democratic majorities. And the governor, Chris Gregoire, is a Democrat too. But Gregoire and the Democratic lawmakers have shown little interest in supporting a state income tax. During her election campaign in 2008, Gregoire even made a pledge not to raise taxes. She beat her Republican challenger by 53% to 47%. But overall Democrats have acted like Republicans: unwilling to raise taxes, Democrats slashed funding for human services and universities, in order to close the $9 billion deficit.

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Even after her re-election, Gregoire released a statement saying she opposes a state income tax. Boo!

Fact is, if Democrats raised taxes too much, voters might rebel. But politicians should educate the public about the facts. Most people would benefit from a progressive income tax. But people are afraid. Unfortunately, the politicians don't take the lead.

I've spoken to several state legislators about this topic. They say: the citizens have to lead on the topic. Politicians will ride a wave, but few will lead.

There are exceptions. Washington State senator Rosa Franklin regularly submits a bill in support of a state income tax. It gets little support.


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DFA organizer, Democratic Precinct Committee Officer, writer, and programmer. My op-ed pieces have appeared in the Seattle Times, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and elsewhere. See and for my writing, my (more...)

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