Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Monday, June 19, 2006

BREAKING NEWS: Washingtonians investing less than other Americans

This isn't breaking news for any well informed progressive activist, but it may come as a surprise to those who continue to contend (and like to pretend) that Washington State's residents are suffering under a staggering amount of taxes.

The truth is that Washington State's taxes (we like to call them public investments) aren't high at all. You wouldn't get to that conclusion by listening to our state's right wing, though.

Tim Eyman often likes to claim we're the 4th highest taxed state in the nation - and of course our friends over in the right wing blogosphere never seem to stop complaining about state government spending. Interestingly, they never seem to criticize the enormous and wasteful expenditures of the Bush administration (can anyone say, "CHA-CHING?")

But thankfully, there's actually good data out there that does give us a good idea of how we stack up against other states. And presented using an honest frame, it shows where we are and where we ought to be. From the Department of Revenue:
Washington's state and local taxes were the 29th-lowest in the country during Fiscal Year 2004, according to figures just published by the U.S. Census Bureau.

State and local taxes were $106.27 per $1,000 personal income, compared to a U.S. average of $110.43 per $1,000. Washington ranked 10th lowest among 13 Western states.
This data, of course, doesn't fit with the right's frame - the idea that we live in the most overtaxed area in the country, or even the world. This information is useless unless it is presented with an honest frame.

But wait - there's more:
Washington ranked 28th in property taxes per $1,000 personal income, at $31.68 compared to a U.S. average of $34.75.


Tax collections per $1,000 personal income were $107.53 in 2000 and $100.90 in 2002. The low 2002 figure was due to strong growth of personal income relative to taxes for that year and was the lowest rate of taxes per $1,000 personal income since 1981.
What this data tells us is that our taxes are NOT skyrocketing and that we are BELOW the national average in taxes collected. And we've actually been trending downwards for decades, certainly long before Tim Eyman & Co. ever came along.

In related news today:
Gov. Chris Gregoire pledged Monday to work with the Legislature to pass property-tax limits if the courts throw out the voter-approved Initiative 747.


She declined to state a position on the correct percentage, but indicated that perhaps neither the old number nor the 1 percent cap is the best solution.

The 6 percent, she said, clearly begins to tax people out of their homes and the 1 percent limit appears to cause cutbacks on core local services that people need.

"I think we need to have an open discussion about this," she told a wide-ranging news conference. "We need to have a delicate balance here. We need to make sure people can afford to pay their property taxes and we need security for those homes, whether that's firefighting or law enforcement possibilities.

"I clearly do not believe 6 percent is anything the public at large, particularly our lower income and our first home owners, can afford.

"I will be looking to my colleagues in the Legislature ... to find some continuing relief from the tax burden on property taxes."
Initiative 747, which took effect in late 2001, has been a nightmare ever since for Washington State's local elected officials, who have had to cut needed public services because of lost revenue. In fact, I-747 has practically bankrupted a number of cities across Washington.

According to the Department of Revenue, the loss to the state property tax totals $226,923,000 for the 2005-2007 biennium while losses to local taxing districts total $571,496,000. That's $571 million dollars - an enormous sum of money.

The loss to local governments in 2006 alone is some $285 million dollars.

That's not money going into a black hole. That's money that pays for first responders (police, fire, paramedics), libraries, pools, parks, and other vital public services that make our communities good places to live. Who wants to live in an unsafe neighborhood with no green spaces, recreational facilities, or opportunities to expand your knowledge?

Public infrastructure is incredibly important. Not only does it include the services I mentioned above, but also schools and our transportation system. All of these public services have been attacked in the past by right wing initiatives. And the attacks keep on coming.

Governor Christine Gregoire has an opportunity to do something about the problems I-747 has created whether or not the state Supreme Court upholds Roberts' ruling. The Governor and the Legislature ought to work together to repeal I-747 and replace it with wiser policy.

Instead of cutting taxes, let's reform the state's tax structure. We can start by getting rid of the huge amount of ridiculous exemptions that are given out every year to businesses and industries that don't need them. Sunset legislation should be passed to require a periodicial review of tax exemptions so that policy does not simply become perpetual.

Ultimately, the property tax needs a serious restructuring, and the sales and business occupation taxes need to be abolished and replaced with progressive income taxes and or value added taxes, which are much fairer.

We believe (and deserve) a fair tax structure, a responsible government, and strong public services. Right wing initiatives give us just the opposite. That's why proposals from zealots like Tim Eyman and Dennis Falk are threats to our sustainable future - threats we can't afford to ignore.

We owe it to ourselves and later generations to not only stop these right wing assaults, but design and implement policies that address the real problems we face.

It's tough to provide the kind of leadership it takes to improve and invest in our communities, but we believe elected officials like Governor Gregoire, Speaker Chopp, and Senate Majority Leader Brown are capable.

Effective leadership, however, means not only making decisions, but listening. Olympia needs our help and our input to move Washington forward. The right wing may scorn the legislative process, but we embrace it. The Founders of this country believed in representative democracy, and so do we.

Effective leadership also needs something else - accurate information.

We cannot make tax reform a reality - or make any decisions whatsoever - using inaccurate information. That's why science is so important. That's why research by government agencies like the U.S. Census Bureau is so important.

Washingtonians need to know the facts. Unfortunately, putting the facts out there isn't enough. Simply refuting the other side's spin is not enough. And that's why reframing is so important.

Taxes are not an affliction. They are not a burden. The phrases "tax relief" and "tax burden" are part of conservative framing and should be completely discarded.

The conservative frame, unfortunately, is prevalent just about everywhere, and that's where our greatest challenge lies. Ever noticed that a lot of candidates running for office, even Democrats, run on "low taxes" or make a promise to keep taxes low? It's a trap, and Christine Gregoire unfortunately fell right into it as a candidate.

(So far though, as Governor, she has sidestepped just about all the traps laid in her path by the other side, and it's certainly made the local right wing very angry.)

Before presenting this important information to a fellow citizen, reframe.

Start out with values like fairness, freedom, and prosperity. Use a story that helps explain why taxes are really wise investments in our future. When you've succeeded in getting your audience to accept the honest view, then share this information and help enlighten them.

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