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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Inequity is Unsustainable

posted by on January 10 at 13:22 PM

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.

RSS icon Comments


It is crazy, isn't it?

We have Republicans who are too psychotic to rule, and Democrats who are too cowardly and worried about their own job security to enact a progressive agenda that would actually make people's lives better.

What a sad FUBAR state and country this is.

Posted by Original Andrew | January 10, 2007 2:31 PM

What do you mean by unsustainable? Seems like the right word would be unfair. The sales tax has "sustained" us for a while, do you see reasons while continuing it puts state government at risk of not being funded? I agree that it is a regressive and unfair tax structure, but unfortunately I think it can be sustained for a while.

Posted by Micah | January 10, 2007 3:12 PM

PS. The Seattle Times pissed away what little credibility they had with their despicable 2006 election endorsements.

Frak them.

Posted by Original Andrew | January 10, 2007 4:05 PM

As if anyone listens to those combat-avoiding Reds anymore ... or their insane budget ideas.

And it's the Bothell Times.

Posted by Will in Seattle | January 10, 2007 4:12 PM

A 'progressive' state income tax has been proposed for decades. Booth Gardiner, Mike Lowry and Gary Locke all floated the idea. Washington voters overwhelmingly reject the idea each time it comes up.

There are plausible arguments against it (including the one that the targeted 'rich people' are the ones most able to avoid it by itemizing deductions, leaving more to be paid by the 1040EZ crowd). But the biggest opposition is due to voters being justifiably wary of adding another new major tax. NONE of the boosters for an income tax have ever said they'd ELIMINATE the sales tax-- they say things like 'reducing the sales tax burden'. No one says they'd get rid of it. Once an income tax was in place there would be nothing to prevent the legislature from raising the sales tax rates right back up to whatever they were before, plus any of the extra points tacked on by the various municipalities. Then you'd be stuck with two taxes and the worst of both worlds.

Posted by ronski | January 10, 2007 4:14 PM

Great site!

Posted by azazello. | January 25, 2007 6:29 AM

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