The Seattle Times editorial board makes a compelling—if unintentional—argument today for suspending a multimillion dollar state tax break their own newspaper enjoys.
On Tuesday, Washington voters overwhelmingly approved Initiative 1163, mandating training, certification, and criminal background checks for home health care workers... which of course prompted the direct democrats at the Seattle Times to immediately call for its suspension. I-1163 passed in all 39 counties, and by a landslide two-to-one margin statewide, yet the headline from the paper with its finger on the pulse of the people Frank Blethen's sclerotic heart declares: "In crisis, Washington Legislature should suspend Initiative 1163."
THE voters approved Initiative 1163, to require more training for home-health-care workers and have the state pay for the training for workers in state programs. Legislators are wondering whether they have the moral authority to suspend this measure, which requires a two-thirds vote. They do and they should.
Uh-huh. So why do legislators have the "moral authority" to suspend a measure that has now been overwhelmingly approved by voters twice in three years (the virtually identical I-1029 passed 73-27 in 2008)? According to the editors:
I-1163 was sponsored by the Service Employees International Union, which ... says to legislators, "Find $36 million per biennium and spend it on this. We do not care where you find the money. That is your problem."
First of all, that's a lie. According to the I-1163 fiscal note (pdf) prepared by the state Office of Financial Management: "Over six fiscal years, costs are estimated to increase $31.3 million and revenue from the federal government and fees is estimated to increase $18.4 million." That's a net budget hit of $12.9 million over three biennium, not $36 million over one, as the Seattle Times falsely claims.
To be fair, even I-1163's backers freely admit that OFM's six-year projection is misleading, because it assumes the measure's mandates as its starting point in 2014, when I-1029 is currently scheduled to go back into effect. So the most relevant and objective numbers are for 2012 through 2013, when I-1163 would increase costs by $32 million, while increasing revenues by $14.2 million. That's a net biennial budget hit of $17.8 million, not $36 million as the editors absurdly claim. I'm not sure where the Seattle Times gets its numbers; certainly not from OFM or any other reputable source. They're just wrong.
$17.8 million comes to less than 0.027 percent of the state's $66 billion in total budgeted expenditures for 2009-2011, and "in a fat year," the editors admit, "this would not matter." But in a "crisis" year like this, they argue, "If you want something that costs the government money, provide a way to pay for it."
Okay. What's good for the more than two-thirds of Washington voters who have twice voted for I-1163's modest measures, should also be good for newspaper publishers, don't you think? In 2009, even as his own editorial board argued that legislators "must cut, cut, cut" their way through this fiscal crisis, Seattle Times publisher Frank Blethen drove down to Olympia to personally lobby for—and get—a 40 percent cut in the B&O tax rate for newspapers. That's a special interest tax break that costs over $2.5 million in the current biennial budget.
In a fat year, this would not matter. But, I'm sure his own editorial board would agree, this year it does. In this situation it is not reasonable to puff up a tax preference without adding a funding source unless it is an emergency, which this is not. Legislators are wondering whether they have the moral authority to suspend this tax break, which requires a two-thirds vote. By the Seattle Times' own reasoning, they do and they should.
I asked The Stranger publisher Tim Keck, who also benefits from this tax break, for his input on whether our state can afford not to suspend a multimillion dollar tax break that panders to wealthy media barons like himself at a time we're slashing education and cutting children from the health care rolls, to which he thoughtfully replied, "Fuck you, Goldy." Not exactly an enthusiastic embrace of such a pragmatic public policy proposal, but then, in The Stranger's tradition of editorial freedom, neither did Tim attempt to mute my bold public advocacy.
And if my esteemed colleagues on the Seattle Times editorial board weren't such a bunch of gutless, hypocritical fucks, I'm sure they'd join me in challenging our publishers, and calling for the suspension of a newspaper B&O tax break that, by the editors' own logic, the citizens of Washington state can simply no longer afford.