NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Wednesday, August 26th, 2015

Tim Eyman confirms his worst nightmare: Progressive tax reform for Washington State

In the late 1990s, before he became a prominent salesman of destructive right wing initiatives, Tim Eyman was a seller of wristwatches to fraternities. After discovering just how lucrative selling initiatives to wealthy conservative donors could be, Eyman abandoned his wristwatch business and became a full-time, richly compensated initiative pitchman — an occupation he continues to hold.

Something that’s played a big role in keeping Eyman in business for over fifteen years is Washington State’s horribly regressive tax structure, which is the worst in the nation. We have a tax code that requires middle and low income families to pay a much larger percentage of their income in dues to the state than wealthy families.

This broken tax code has been the gift that keeps on giving for Tim Eyman, in two important ways. First, it helps keep the gears of his initiative factory lubricated with cash. Wealthy right wing donors like living in a state where they can get what amounts to a free ride, and they’re only too happy to open their checkbooks for Tim, who uses some of their money to qualify destructive schemes for the ballot to keep it that way, while pocketing the rest for himself as profit.

Second, it results in an electorate more receptive to Eyman’s initiatives. If tax obligations were fair in Washington and people were asked to pay according to their means, there would be less of an appetite for schemes to eviscerate our common wealth and wreck government. Eyman’s followers would still be enthusiastic, of course, but they’re only a fraction of the electorate. If Eyman can’t win at the ballot at least some of the time, his power and influence disappears. He knows that.

That’s why Tim fears progressive tax reform. It’s his worst nightmare. Were we to make our tax code fairer, it’d be very bad for his business. He might even have to find a new (and possibly less lucrative) source of income.

Though Tim claims that Washington voters are extremely hostile to the idea of an income tax and would never go for it, it still really, really, really bothers him when our state’s mass media give progressives space to talk about the idea, because he fears the possibility that we’ll be successful in educating the public about the merits of adopting a state-level tax that is based on ability to pay.

Hence, Tim’s email this morning:

To:  Our thousands of supporters throughout the state (cc’d to the media, house & senate members, and Governor)

From: Tim Eyman, Jack Fagan, & Mike Fagan [contact info redacted]

RE: “Tim Eyman wrecked the state government’s ability to manage its business” says pusher of state income tax

There’s a huge push right now for the Legislature to impose a new state income tax (reason #1 that we make sure Initiative 1366 passes in November). A local liberal columnist in today’s Everett Herald is salivating over a new $5 billion PER YEAR tax increase (to put a $5 billion annual tax increase in perspective, he’d have to raise the statewide sales tax to 15% to get that kind of money).

He writes:  “You can’t just middle through to get $5 billion … it would be incredibly easy to get this money, if we had the political leadership willing to do so … look across I-405 to Redmond or to the tony neighborhoods of Hunts Point and Medina.  Note the new buildings, new cars, new remodels, new houses, and realize that is just the tip of the iceberg of new income and wealth in our state.  The beneficiaries, indeed the takers, of this wealth … we don’t tax income at all.”

The column Eyman is referring to, which he doesn’t properly cite, let alone bother to link to, is this sensible piece from Economic Opportunity Institute Executive Director John Burbank (State income tax would fix school funding and much more).

(The subject line of Eyman’s email is not from John’s column at all, by the way, but from an August 12th letter to the editor of The Herald which Eyman doesn’t cite. This is par for the course; Eyman has always been sloppy with attribution. )

John’s premise is that we could properly fund education from preschool to college if we levied a state income tax as the centerpiece of a reform effort. From his op-ed:

How much revenue would a progressive income tax provide for public services? First exempt $50,000 of income. Then put in place effective tax rates of 2 percent for a $100,000 household, 3.5 percent for a $200,000 household, 5 percent for a $500,000 household, 6.25 percent for a million dollar household, and 8.125 percent for a $2 million household. That would raise $7.5 billion.

Now let’s do the math:

  • $7.5 billion in new revenue,
  • Minus $3 billion for K-12 education,
  • Minus $1.5 billion for higher education tuition,
  • Minus $500 million for early childhood education.

That leaves $2.5 billion on the table. With that, we could take a bite out of our regressive tax system by dropping the sales tax by 1.5 cents. That would cost about $1.5 billion. And that leaves $1 billion a year for other public services and a reserve.

This is actually a very modest proposal, which would raise badly needed revenue for the state while easing the state’s dependency on the sales tax. Lowering the sales tax would reduce tax obligations for Washington’s middle and low income families, who again pay much more of their income in taxes than wealthy families do.

Though John’s proposal would lower the sales tax in 2017 by as much as Scenario 1 of Tim Eyman’s hostage-taking I-1366, Eyman didn’t bother to mention that aspect of it. Instead, he proceeded to take great offense at the very progressive, very sensible idea of asking wealthy people to pay their fair share:

The lust, the envy, the wanton coveting of others’ possessions oozing from his column feels incredibly filthy and unseemly.

Just because some people have things they’ve earned doesn’t give others the right to take it.

There is no lust or wanton coveting in John’s column. That’s wholly imagined on Tim’s part. What’s truly filthy and unseemly are Tim’s destructive initiatives and toxic politics. Tim has some nerve calling somebody else’s writing filthy, given his penchant for petty name calling and circulation of disgusting memes.

In the portion of the column that Tim excerpts and jeers at, John is alluding to the important truth that there are no self-made men or women in America.

Every entrepreneur, every businessperson, every successful investor uses the public’s infrastructure that the taxpayers paid for to make their money, whether that’s the Internet, seaports and airports, the interstate highway system, research conducted by our publicly owned universities, or the courts (the vast majority of civil cases in our courts concern business disputes and corporate law).

Without taxes, we don’t get schools, police and fire protection, roads and transit, or any of the other public goods we use in our daily lives. These are things we couldn’t afford as individuals. It is only by pooling our resources together as a people that we can afford them. It is patriotic to be a taxpayer and to pay one’s dues.

If nobody pays their dues, the vital public services that support our economy collapse — and our economy goes with it.

Tim ended his email as he always does — by exhorting his supporters to give him more money. Success of his hostage-taking I-1366, he claimed, will shut down discussion of a state income tax. As Eyman put it: “The overwhelming passage of Initiative 1366 will be the best way to repudiate this kind of talk.”

So much for free speech.

I have no doubt that Tim will soon end up reading this blog post, so I’ll just address him directly with a few closing remarks.

Listen, Tim, the same First Amendment that gives you the right to spew your garbage gives us the right to talk about making our state a better place to live, work, play, and go on vacation. We’re not going to stop talking about progressive tax reform, no matter what happens with your hostage-taking I-1366. We’re not going to stop laying the groundwork for action, either.

In fact, your attack on John Burbank’s op-ed merely reinforces our motivation to help ensure the conversation about progressive tax reform expands to become more prevalent and inclusive in the years ahead.

Your initiatives are all about protecting the rich from having to pay their fair share and keeping our tax code broken so there will always be grist for future schemes to harm the government that belongs to all of us as a people. You claim to be a champion of the common man, but that is a complete crock, as anyone can see from looking at the PDC reports of your initiative factory’s many committees.

You’re relentless, to be sure, but so are we. NPI just celebrated twelve years of continuous operation and development. We’re here for the long haul, and we will not only maintain our permanent defense against your initiative factory, but work energetically to reform the broken tax code that facilitates its existence.

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One Comment

  1. I support a progressive tax change that will lower the sales tax. Coupling an income tax with a reduction of one or two cents in the sales tax is the kind of relief we need.

    # by Robert Doyle :: August 28th, 2015 at 12:12 PM

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