Yes on Initiative 1077: Let's put real tax reform on the ballot this November
After months of discussion and deliberation, a coalition of progressive public interest groups is moving forward with a ballot measure (Initiative 1077) that asks the people of Washington State to approve the creation of a state income tax on wealthy couples and individuals, to be dedicated to schools and healthcare.
At a press conference this morning in Seattle's Central District, renowned philanthrophist and tax reform expert William Gates (Sr.) announced that the Yes on 1077 coalition will seek to qualify the initiative for the general election ballot this November. The confirmed news was greeted with cheers and applause from activists standing shoulder to shoulder behind a row of television cameras.
"We've talked about the need for tax reform in this state for too many years," Gates told the crowd assembled in SoHo Coffee. "So, today — this day — we're going to begin to do something. We're launching I-1077."
"Our tax code is unfair," he explained. "It harms our economy and fails to provide the stable revenue we need for important state services, particularly priorities like education and healthcare... We can do better."
Gates neatly summaried the intent of Initiative 1077, noting that most Washington families would see their taxes decrease if enacted. State property taxes would be reduced by twenty percent and the hated business and occupation tax would be eliminated for eighty percent of the Evergreen State's small businesses.
The ballot drawn up by Attorney General Rob McKenna's office alludes to these provisions in the measure; it is as follows:
Statement of Subject: Initiative Measure No. 1077 concerns taxation.Of course, Mukilteo initiative profiteer Tim Eyman showed up for the press conference, though he did not attempt to interrupt any of the speakers (he likely would have been quickly shooed out of the coffee shop if he had). He invited reporters to follow him outside afterwards, where he proceeded to dismiss the initiative as best he could, jeering that the press conference should have been held in a church "because it requires so much faith in something."
Concise Description: This measure would tax “adjusted gross income” above $400,000 joint ($200,000 individual), reduce the state property tax levy, reduce certain business and occupation taxes, and direct any increased revenues to education and health.
Should this measure be enacted into law? Yes [ ] No [ ]
It was an unusual role reversal for Eyman, who is accustomed to peddling his own initiatives instead of critiquing others.
"I just don't think the voters are going for go for it," Eyman said, who conceded that the coalition behind Initiative 1077 would have no trouble qualifing it for the ballot. "When you've got billionaires on your side, it's usually pretty easy to get your measure qualified," he quipped.
Naturally, Eyman knows all about buying his way onto the ballot, because he does it every year with the help of his sugar daddy Michael Dunmire, an ill-tempered investment banker who has a low opinion of the Legislature. For half a decade, Dunmire has fronted three quarters or more of the money Eyman has used to force public votes on his schemes, and we expect he'll be doing so again in 2010, although he hasn't written any checks to Eyman for I-1053 yet.
Eyman contends that after two years, the Legislature will increase property taxes and business and occupation taxes on small businesses back to what they were, or extend the income tax to everybody. Or both.
His hypothetical is implausible because legislators don't like having to vote to raise taxes. And in fact, Initiative 1077, if approved, will do some of their work for them. It would provide an estimated $1 billion in new revenue for education and healthcare after offsetting property tax cuts and the elimination of the business and occupation tax for small businesses in the budget.
Getting Initiative 1077 passed won't be easy. Rich conservatives like Michael Dunmire are sure to dump money into an opposition campaign which will attempt to scare voters. The right wing will level all sorts of absurd charges. For example, they'll claim the wealthy will move out of state, an argument that's so phony that William Gates Sr. dismissed it with laughter when a reporter had the audacity to bring it up. "I'm not leaving," he said with a smile, pointing out that nearly every state in America has an income tax. (Washington is one of seven that do not).
After the press conference was over, I had the honor of becoming one of the first Washingtonians to sign the initiative petition. I think I'm the twenty fifth or twenty sixth signatory. Readers, if you'd like to help gather signatures for Initiative 1077, please get in touch with the campaign. They're going to need all the help they can get between now and the first week of July.