Yes­ter­day, while doing some week­end read­ing with the help of Pacif­ic NW Por­tal, I came across an edi­to­r­i­al by the Spokesman-Review which remind­ed me of at least a dozen dif­fer­ent plat­i­tude-laden Seat­tle Times edi­to­ri­als I’ve read over the years that attempt­ed to pass for insight­ful com­men­tary on the state’s fis­cal situation.

This edi­to­r­i­al, “State’s fis­cal choic­es far from easy”, begins with a lame joke, goes on to point out that Wash­ing­ton has many impor­tant pub­lic ser­vices and oblig­a­tions that law­mak­ers (on behalf of the peo­ple they serve) need to fig­ure out how to fund in the next bien­ni­um, and then con­cludes with the fol­low­ing pearl of wis­dom:

The new Leg­is­la­ture will have some very dif­fi­cult choic­es to make. As the polit­i­cal cam­paigns begin in earnest, vot­ers should ask tough ques­tions about how they expect Wash­ing­ton to meet all its oblig­a­tions. Until this bien­ni­um, the answer was tuition increas­es at state uni­ver­si­ties. That’s the wrong answer for the state’s mid­dle class, and the aero­space, and infor­ma­tion- and biotech­nol­o­gy indus­tries that are the key to the state’s future.

In my twelve plus years as an activist, I feel as though I’ve read this same edi­to­r­i­al (in dif­fer­ent incar­na­tions!) a hun­dred times or more. It’s get­ting old. Real­ly old.

What we need is not more tough ques­tions — those are read­i­ly sup­plied at forums and can­di­date debates by the wis­est and sharpest among us every elec­tion cycle. What we real­ly need are tough answers.

We need can­di­dates for Leg­is­la­ture to be frank and even blunt when talk­ing about the bud­get and the fis­cal out­look for our state. We espe­cial­ly need them to be can­did and to reframe when talk­ing to the state’s edi­to­r­i­al writ­ers, many of whom seem to be afflict­ed with a chron­ic case of Eymanism.

Eyman­ism, which gets its name from ini­tia­tive pro­mot­er Tim Eyman (who has been sell­ing the tempt­ing notion of a free lunch to Wash­ing­to­ni­ans for years) is the false, total­ly erro­neous idea that our oblig­a­tions can be met and our under­fund­ed pub­lic ser­vices pro­tect­ed and expand­ed with­out ever rais­ing or recov­er­ing revenue.

Though Eyman belongs to the Grover Norquist school of thought, which holds that pub­lic ser­vices should be destroyed and gov­ern­ment under­mined wher­ev­er and when­ev­er pos­si­ble, he knows that Wash­ing­to­ni­ans like their pub­lic ser­vices, so he ignores that side of the equa­tion as much as pos­si­ble. And unfor­tu­nate­ly, estab­lished media out­lets let him get away with it way too frequently.

Retir­ing Sen­a­tor Adam Kline, who has long been one of my favorite elect­ed lead­ers, is one of the few who has had the gump­tion to con­sis­tent­ly inter­rupt Eyman’s press con­fer­ences and demand that Eyman show him where the so-called fat is in the bud­get. Kline, in fight­ing form, would demand to know what cuts Eyman would make, and Eyman would demur, offer­ing pathet­ic excus­es and try­ing to return to his pre­fab­ri­cat­ed talk­ing points as fast as possible.

Kline would per­sist, bad­ger­ing Eyman to the point where Eyman (who has a short fuse) would become very irri­tat­ed. It was always great fun to watch.

The peo­ple who pen these unsigned mas­ter­pieces for the edi­to­r­i­al pages of The Seat­tle Times, Spokesman-Review, and oth­er papers deserve to be bad­gered by a read­er with the courage and ded­i­ca­tion of some­body like Adam Kline every time they gen­er­ate one of these sil­ly edi­to­ri­als that ignores the ele­phants in the room.

What are the ele­phants in the room? One of them, amus­ing­ly enough, actu­al­ly uses an ele­phant as its mas­cot: the Repub­li­can Par­ty. The oth­er is Wash­ing­ton’s utter­ly bro­ken, high­ly regres­sive, opaque tax struc­ture.

Each stands in the way of what Wash­ing­ton’s edi­to­r­i­al boards pro­fess is nec­es­sary and desir­able: strong pub­lic ser­vices and a bud­get that is fis­cal­ly responsible.

I men­tion the Repub­li­can Par­ty first because it’s the ele­phant that’s stand­ing in front, block­ing access to the oth­er elephant.

The Repub­li­can Par­ty these days answers to right wing extrem­ists. They’re in con­trol; they dom­i­nate. They run the show (and to them, it is a show, sadly).

There used to be such as thing as pro­gres­sive Repub­li­cans, but the Dan Evans wing of the par­ty no longer has any pow­er. Nowa­days, there are unfor­tu­nate­ly just two kinds of Repub­li­cans: Right wing extrem­ists and enablers of right wing extremists.

Even many bicon­cep­tu­als (peo­ple who use both the pro­gres­sive and con­ser­v­a­tive val­ue sys­tems in dif­fer­ent areas of their polit­i­cal think­ing) rec­og­nize this.

In fact, it has become increas­ing­ly obvi­ous to any­one who has both­ered to pay atten­tion to the 113th Con­gress and the last two leg­isla­tive ses­sions here in Wash­ing­ton State, which fea­tured a Sen­ate con­trolled by the Repub­li­cans fol­low­ing a post-elec­tion pow­er coup engi­neered with Rod­ney Tom and Tim Sheldon.

For the likes of Tim Eyman and his col­lab­o­ra­tors Don Ben­ton and Pam Roach, the evo­lu­tion (or devo­lu­tion) of the Repub­li­can Par­ty is a cause for celebration.

For pret­ty much every­body else, it is a lam­en­ta­ble, sad state of affairs, because what it means is that we no longer have a healthy two-par­ty system.

Sim­ply put, progress has become elu­sive with­out one-par­ty rule.

Pro­gres­sives can no longer col­lab­o­rate across par­ty lines for the good of all since there is no room for pro­gres­sives in the Repub­li­can Par­ty… or even any­one with pro­gres­sive views on major issues (as naive Demo­c­ra­t­ic defec­tor Mark Milos­cia will dis­cov­er if he man­ages to win in the 30th LD).

This painful truth seems total­ly lost on The Seat­tle Times and oth­er edi­to­r­i­al boards, who seem stuck in anoth­er era. Just this week­end, the Times endorsed two Repub­li­cans for House in the 5th Dis­trict, Chad Mad­gen­danz and Jay Rodne.

Of Rodne, the Times wrote:

Rodne’s views on social issues — in par­tic­u­lar, lead­ing oppo­si­tion to gay mar­riage in the House and vig­or­ous­ly crit­i­ciz­ing Inslee’s deci­sion to halt cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment — are dis­cor­dant with The Seat­tle Times edi­to­r­i­al board’s positions.

His oppo­nent, Demo­c­rat Essie Hicks, a for­mer small busi­ness own­er and an edu­ca­tion advo­cate, is bet­ter on those issues.

But her def­i­n­i­tion of the McCleary oblig­a­tion — up to $7 bil­lion more — and sup­port for gen­er­al “tax reform” sug­gests she’d be too free-spend­ing for the 5th Leg­isla­tive District.

That last para­graph, which I’ve bold­faced, speaks to every­thing that is wrong, or messed up, with news­pa­per endorse­ments today.

The Times claims to want great pub­lic schools. They reg­u­lar­ly lament the under­fund­ing of pri­ma­ry schools, sec­ondary schools, and uni­ver­si­ties. But then they turn around and endorse anti-tax Repub­li­cans like Jay Rodne at elec­tion time. This Jekyll/Hyde like behav­ior is hard­ly new, of course, but it nev­er ceas­es to be silly.

What do Frank Blethen and his edi­to­r­i­al writ­ers real­ly want? The bro­ken sta­tus quo, which peo­ple like Jay Rodne rep­re­sent? Or coura­geous new lead­ers like Essie Hicks, who was clear­ly not afraid to walk into her inter­view with the Seat­tle Times and declare that we’re behind — real­ly behind — on school funding?

What’s espe­cial­ly stu­pid is that the Times then tries to pass off its own case of Eyman­ism onto the vot­ers by claim­ing that Hicks would be “too free-spend­ing for the 5th Leg­isla­tive Dis­trict.” The impli­ca­tion seems to be that Hicks would not be fis­cal­ly respon­si­ble because she, unlike Rodne, wants to do some­thing about the oth­er ele­phant in the room, the one Rod­ne’s ele­phant is stand­ing in front of.

Shame on the Times.

Real fis­cal respon­si­bil­i­ty requires courage and fore­sight — the abil­i­ty to think long term, to under­stand non-finan­cial costs, and to appre­ci­ate sys­temic causation.

We have been pro­cras­ti­nat­ing for years as a state and col­lec­tive­ly pre­tend­ing that we could have it both ways, but that’s just not going to work for us much longer. We’ve been back­fill­ing for over a decade, and we’re about at the end of that rope. Law­mak­ers are run­ning out of tricks and short-term gim­micks that they can use to pre­tend to bal­ance the bud­get every two years.

Because Repub­li­cans are unwill­ing to raise rev­enue (even to ensure we’re hon­or­ing the explic­it oblig­a­tions con­tained in the plan of gov­ern­ment our Founders gave us) and because they’re total­ly unin­ter­est­ed in fix­ing our bro­ken tax struc­ture, we’re stuck leg­isla­tive­ly so long as they have veto pow­er of some kind over the process, whether that’s con­trol of one house of the Leg­is­la­ture, or the exis­tence of an uncon­sti­tu­tion­al scheme like I‑601 and its clones, brought to us by Tim Eyman, oil com­pa­nies, Wall Street banks, and oth­er pow­er­ful interests.

(Thank­ful­ly, the uncon­sti­tu­tion­al super­ma­jor­i­ty require­ment from I‑601 and its clones is gone; the state Supreme Court final­ly nixed it last year).

Now, admit­ted­ly, with­in the Leg­is­la­ture’s Demo­c­ra­t­ic cau­cus­es, on the sub­ject of tax reform, there isn’t yet con­sen­sus on what to do or how to do it.

But at least Democ­rats, even the more con­ser­v­a­tive ones, are will­ing to have a con­ser­va­tion that goes beyond plat­i­tudes and lip service.

Aside from pro­gres­sive pub­li­ca­tions like this one, that con­ver­sa­tion sad­ly does­n’t seem to extend much fur­ther beyond Demo­c­ra­t­ic and pro­gres­sive cir­cles. It needs to. Wash­ing­to­ni­ans need to under­stand the con­nec­tion between the tax dol­lars they pay and the impor­tant, vital ser­vices they get in return.

If we want bet­ter pub­lic schools, bet­ter uni­ver­si­ties, bet­ter pub­lic tran­sit, bet­ter police and fire pro­tec­tion, bet­ter libraries, bet­ter parks, then we must pool our resources and invest in those things together.

Tax­es are like mem­ber­ship dues in soci­ety. Con­trary to what Tim Eyman says, tax­es are not bad. They’re not evil. They’re not an afflic­tion. Rather, tax­es are the means by which we get all of the good things that make our state and our region the great place to live, work, and play that it is. Of course, tax­es should be fair­ly levied and con­sis­tent­ly col­lect­ed, and that’s not the case in our state now.

The sys­tem is rigged, and there are a lot of cor­po­ra­tions that are cheat­ing their way out of their oblig­a­tions, wrong­ly think­ing, “It’s just good business.”

No, it’s not. Where would the likes of Microsoft and Ama­zon be with­out the Inter­net, which came into being thanks to pub­lic research? Or our courts sys­tem (nine-tenths of the cas­es per­tain to cor­po­rate law) which they rely on to adju­di­cate dis­putes over patents, trade­marks, and sales or oth­er agree­ments? Where would Boe­ing be with­out our pub­licly-fund­ed air­ports, sea­ports, and high­way system?

All the suc­cess­ful busi­ness­es in this state owe some of their suc­cess to the peo­ple of this state, who paid for the pub­lic ser­vices they have used, and con­tin­ue to use, to make their mon­ey. They need to pay it for­ward and embrace, not dodge, their oblig­a­tions. Mind­sets about tax­es in this state need to be changed, from the mar­ble halls of the Leg­isla­tive Build­ing to count­less kitchen tables to the C‑suites in Seat­tle and Red­mond, from can’t to can. Real, mean­ing­ful tax reform is not only achiev­able, it’s absolute­ly nec­es­sary if this state is to have a future.

And what does tax reform look like? Here’s a basic overview. We need to:

  • List all tax exemp­tions as expen­di­tures in the state bud­get every two years so we can see what they’re cost­ing us.
  • Sun­set out­dat­ed, unnec­es­sary tax exemp­tions that are not ben­e­fit­ing the pub­lic inter­est. If an inde­pen­dent review can­not pro­vide ample jus­ti­fi­ca­tion, the tax exemp­tion should be abol­ished and the rev­enue recovered.
  • Make the prop­er­ty tax geared more towards means/ability to pay, with a basic home­stead exemp­tion for Wash­ing­ton homeowners.
  • Com­plete­ly replace the anti­quat­ed busi­ness and occu­pa­tion tax, and par­tial­ly replace the sales tax, with tax­es on wealth.

If this state’s news­pa­per pub­lish­ers want to use their influ­ence to do some good before their busi­ness mod­els become unsus­tain­able, they should quit ped­dling plat­i­tudes on their edi­to­r­i­al pages, and help breathe new life into our polit­i­cal dis­course. Start by acknowl­edg­ing that Eyman’s ini­tia­tives are not the answer.

It can be done: Peter Jack­son is lead­ing the way with his stew­ard­ship of The Her­ald of Everett, which seems to have large­ly cured itself of Eymanism.

The edi­tors of the Seat­tle Times, Spokesman-Review, and oth­ers could cer­tain­ly learn a thing or two from Jack­son. And we wish they would.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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One reply on “State’s editorial boards continue to call on lawmakers to make “difficult choices” — without saying what those choices should be”

  1. Will some­one please hire Tim Eyman? He obvi­ous­ly has a lot of free time and, as they used to say before Eyman made being a slack­er lucra­tive, idle hands are the dev­il’s play­things. And ever since Tim suc­cess­ful­ly hood­winked the vot­ers of Wash­ing­ton State into vot­ing for his license tab tax ini­tia­tive, there’s been the dev­il to pay. If you’re inter­est­ed in the cause of sky-high tuition or decreased fund­ing for schools gen­er­al­ly, look no fur­ther than Tim and his rev­enue-pho­bic friends. There’s not a tax that they don’t hate. So please, some­one, hire Tim so he can have a job that keeps him busy and puts food on his mea­ger board while at the same time keep­ing him and us out of trou­ble. Or con­vince him to actu­al­ly run for pub­lic office instead of mak­ing the lives of hon­est politi­cians mis­er­able. Or even bet­ter, let’s all start an ini­tia­tive which when passed would require Tim to move to Ida­ho. I’m sure Tim would be hap­pi­er there. Not sure about Idaho…

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