Meanwhile. many states, including Washington State, are required by law to pass balanced budgets. So, like many other states, Washington State has been slashing government services, in the face of the severe recession and the trillions of dollars wasted in senseless wars and tax cuts for the rich.
In this context, a few weeks ago I canceled my subscription to the Seattle Times, and I encourage other people living in the Seattle area to do the same. My decision was in response to the Seattle Times' editorial, "Legislature should retain I-960's tax-raising threshold" (Jan 14, click here), which urged lawmakers in Olympia not to raise taxes.
I-960 was a citizen initiative, passed in 2007, that requires a 2/3 majority in the state Legislature to raise taxes and fees. Similar measures were passed by voters in California, Colorado, and elsewhere, with devastating consequences. In the case of Washington's I-960, after two years the legislature is allowed to repeal the rule by majority vote. (See this article about I-960.) The Seattle Times editorial opposes such a repeal.
The Seattle Time has consistently taken a conservative stance on tax issues. They regularly editorialize against estate taxes ("death taxes", in their parlance). Last year they supported failed anti-tax initiative I-1033, which would have made it more difficult for the state to raise revenue. And the Seattle Times regularly publishes right-wing propaganda pieces by the likes of Charles Krauthammer and Geroge Will.
Last year there was a $9 billion budget deficit in Washington State. The Democratic Governor (Christine Gregoire) and the Democratic-controlled legislature did an all-cuts budget, being afraid to raise taxes during a severe recession and bowing to pressure from right wing anti-tax activists. The cuts last year were painful enough -- they slashed funding for higher education and for social services. This year there is an estimated $2.6 billion deficit, and the Democrats are gingerly considering increasing revenue -- by elimination of some tax exemptions, and by raising some taxes (e.g., sin taxes). But this is an election year, and they're hesitant to move too fast. Senator Majority Leader Lisa Brown reportedly said that this too isn't the year to raise income taxes.
With Democrats like these, who needs Republicans?
Another all-cuts budget would be devastating. Governor Gregoire recognizes this. By law she is required to submit a balanced budget, and she did so, via an all-cuts budget. But she herself immediately denounced the budget saying that it does not match her values.
Initiative I-960 was the brainchild of relentless conservative anti-tax activist Tim Eyman, who has authored over a dozen initiatives in the last dozen years. Eyman has had mixed success at passing initiative; his initiaitives in 2008 and 2009 were rejected by the voters. But overall, Tim Eyman instills fear in the hearts of Democratic lawmakers in Washington State. Eyman is a hero of conservative teabagger-types.
According to the Seattle Times editorial, "The people have voted for a two-thirds rule three times -- in 1993, 1998 and in 2007. Clearly they want it that way." This ignores the public's rejection of I-1033 last year, and the dire consequences of further cutting government programs.
Washington State has one of the most regressive state tax systems in the nation. According to Fairer Taxes for Washington, and Most Regressive Tax States, it's the most regressive. It's one of only six states with no state income tax. Instead, it relies on sales, property, and the Business and Occupation tax, which affects small businesses disproportionately, as it's based on revenue, not profit.
According to Fairer Taxes for Washington, in 2002 the poorest 20% of Washingtonians paid about 17% of their income in state and local taxes. The middle 20% of Washingtonians paid about 11% of their income in state and local taxes. Meanwhile, the wealthiest 1% of Washingtonians paid about 3% of their income in state and local taxes, and the concentration of wealth has accelerated.
The state constitution specifies that all taxes shall be flat ("uniform") on property. Specifically, the State Constitution says "All taxes shall be uniform upon the same class of property within the territorial limits of the authority levying the tax." But the precise meaning of the language is open to interpretation. For example, is income property? While a nonuniform state income tax would likely be challenged in court, there are reasons to believe that the court would rule in its favor. See
In nearby Oregon, voters this year approved ballot measures No. 66 and No. 67 that raise taxes on the well-to-do and on corporations. See
This year, as in other years, Sen. Rosa Franklin has submitted a bill to amend the state constitution and establish an income tax.
http://apps.leg.wa.gov/billinfo/summary.aspx?bill=8219 The bill has four cosponsors.