Politics Inequity is Unsustainable
posted by January 10 at 13:22 PMon
Over the last couple of days, in reaction to the “It’s unsustainable!” mantra that the mainstream dailies have been parroting on behalf of the GOP to criticize Gov. Christine Gregoire’s $30 billion budget and its, gasp, $4 billion in new spending, Goldy has posted some helpful doses of context.
Goldy did a nice job summarizing the wonky, but important analysis from the Washington State Budget & Policy Center, a lefty think tank that released studies last month showing that Gov. Gregoire isn’t actually expanding government spending. Gregoire’s budget represents a smaller percentage of our economy than the previous six state budgets. Government under Gregoire is smaller.
Gregoire’s budget is a standard update that happens every biennium in Olympia that’s necessary to meet the growing needs of our expanding economy and workforce. (Gregoire’s “expansion” is about 9.6%, which falls well within the average percentage increases of our state budget biennium to biennium going back more than ten years.)
You wouldn’t know any of this from reading the front-page Sunday Seattle Times which (without any context) regurgitates GOP sound bites like this one: “Under the governor’s new budget, the state would spend nearly $6 million a day more than it did when she took office.”
The simple rejoinder to the GOP’s flip scare mongering is that our economy was underserved when Gregoire took office (thanks to the spree of lockstep tax cuts that dominated the GOP era before Gregoire—which depleted state coffers) and she’s fixing that problem by putting money into things like education and health care that the public expects (demands) out of government.
It is true that there’s a problem: Updating our budget to meet the growing needs of an expanding economy (that is: simply providing the services at the level government provides currently) will be “unsustainable” as we move into the next biennium.
But the root cause of the problem isn’t ballooning spending (again Gregoire’s budget represents a smaller portion of your personal income than any recent budget before her) … the root cause is on the revenue side. Thanks to years of GOP tax slashing, our budget is unsustainable because we don’t have an equitable tax structure. In short: Government is being expected to drive the car on a half tank of gas.
Of course, I could also lay the blame on the Democrats. They always talk big about retooling our tax structure so that rather than relying on a sales tax (where the poorest 20 percent of Washington residents pay 17 percent of their income in taxes while the richest one percent pay just three percent of their income), we would shift to something more equitable like an income tax.
But, alas, they (and Gregoire in particular) have shied away from any structural reform. With such whopping majorities right now, it’d be nice to see the Democrats call bullshit on the GOP’s misleading analysis once and for all. “Yes,” the Democrats should say, “We agree. This budget is unsustainable. But it’s not because of big government. It’s because of a flawed tax system. And we’re going to do something about it.”