Washington legislators, remember your paramount duty
Washington legislators, remember your paramount duty (NPI illustration)

Wash­ing­ton vot­ers believe our pub­lic schools are under­fund­ed and strong­ly sup­port rais­ing rev­enue at the state lev­el to address the prob­lem, accord­ing to a new sur­vey con­duct­ed last week by Pub­lic Pol­i­cy Polling for the North­west Pro­gres­sive Institute.

63% of the like­ly vot­ers who respond­ed to the sur­vey agreed that Wash­ing­ton’s schools need more fund­ing. Impres­sive­ly, 65% sup­port a cap­i­tal gains tax on the wealthy to make this hap­pen, with 46% say­ing they “strong­ly sup­port the idea”.

This sur­vey of 679 like­ly Wash­ing­ton State vot­ers was in the field from June 14th-15th, 2016; all respon­dents par­tic­i­pat­ed via land­line. The poll has a mar­gin of error of +/- 3.8% at the 95% con­fi­dence level.

The spe­cif­ic lan­guage of the school under­fund­ing ques­tion was as follows:

Do you strong­ly agree, some­what agree, some­what dis­agree or strong­ly dis­agree with the fol­low­ing state­ment: Wash­ing­ton’s pub­lic schools are under­fund­ed, and we need to raise state rev­enue to ful­ly fund them?

These were the answers:

  • Agree: 63%
    • 45% “strong­ly agree” that we need more rev­enue for schools
    • 18% “some­what agree” that we need more rev­enue for schools
  • Dis­agree: 32%
    • 18% “some­what dis­agree” that we need more rev­enue for schools
    • 14% “strong­ly dis­agree” that we need more rev­enue for schools
  • 6% answered “not sure” 

The spe­cif­ic lan­guage of our cap­i­tal gains tax ques­tion was as follows:

Do you strong­ly sup­port, some­what sup­port, some­what oppose or strong­ly oppose tax­ing the cap­i­tal gains of wealthy indi­vid­u­als to help pay for pub­lic schools, col­leges and universities?”

These were the answers:

  • Sup­port: 65%
    • 46% “strong­ly sup­port” a cap­i­tal gains tax
    • 19% “some­what sup­port” a cap­i­tal gains tax
  • Oppose: 33%
    • 9% “some­what oppose” a cap­i­tal gains tax
    • 24% “strong­ly oppose” a cap­i­tal gains tax
  • 2% answered “not sure” 

Tim Eyman’s wealthy bene­fac­tors may not want a cap­i­tal gains tax, but our research finds that near­ly two-thirds of Wash­ing­ton vot­ers like­ly to vote this Novem­ber do.

Remem­ber, just recent­ly, Eyman told Seat­tle Times colum­nist Dan­ny West­neat he expects to remain rel­e­vant by rid­ing a back­lash to pro­gres­sive tax reform:

“Every­thing I’ve been work­ing on for the past 16 years is com­ing to a head in 2017,” Eyman enthus­es. He cit­ed the Leg­is­la­ture pos­si­bly impos­ing a cap­i­tal-gains tax (Fish­er and a Van­cou­ver, Wash., devel­op­er, Clyde Hol­land, are bankrolling him large­ly to oppose that).

As I’ve writ­ten here pre­vi­ous­ly, pro­gres­sive tax reform is actu­al­ly Eyman’s worst night­mare. It could be ben­e­fi­cial to his ini­tia­tive fac­to­ry in the short term if it spurs peo­ple like Hol­land and Fish­er to write checks to fund anoth­er lucra­tive sig­na­ture dri­ve, but long term, it won’t be — and Eyman knows it.

Case in point: Ten years ago, Eyman friend Den­nis Falk qual­i­fied an ini­tia­tive to the bal­lot to repeal Wash­ing­ton’s estate tax, which is one of the most pro­gres­sive tax­es the state has (it’s only paid by wealthy fam­i­lies). Though the Seat­tle Times cam­paigned relent­less­ly for its pas­sage, vot­ers reject­ed the ini­tia­tive over­whelm­ing­ly, and the estate tax remains in place. It is still being col­lect­ed today.

If the Leg­is­la­ture levies a cap­i­tal gains tax on the wealthy, and Eyman (or any­one else) man­ages to force a vote on that leg­is­la­tion, our research sug­gests that vot­ers stand ready to enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly endorse the new rev­enue and reject any attempt by the right wing to repeal it. Hol­land and Fish­er would be bet­ter served not wast­ing their mon­ey try­ing to over­turn pro­gres­sive tax reform that the peo­ple want.

A cap­i­tal gains tax that funds edu­ca­tion is clear­ly an idea that Wash­ing­to­ni­ans strong­ly sup­port. The num­bers above show it’s wild­ly popular.

We’ve now asked this same ques­tion two years in a row, and each time, the num­ber of vot­ers who have said they “strong­ly sup­port” a cap­i­tal gains tax has been in the for­ties, while the over­all fig­ure has jumped from the fifties into the sixties.

We antic­i­pat­ed that we might see such a jump, giv­en that pres­i­den­tial elec­tion years have the high­est par­tic­i­pa­tion and the most pro­gres­sive electorates.

Last year, ana­lyz­ing the results of the iden­ti­cal­ly-word­ed cap­i­tal gains tax ques­tion, I wrote: “As this was a poll of like­ly 2015 vot­ers, we believe it actu­al­ly under­states the true lev­el of sup­port for a cap­i­tal gains tax among next year’s elec­torate, which is pro­ject­ed to be sub­stan­tial­ly larg­er than this year’s.”

Our 2016 research con­firms this guess. Wash­ing­to­ni­ans real­ly, real­ly want a cap­i­tal gains tax on the wealthy to fund our pub­lic schools.

Sen­ate Repub­li­cans, are you lis­ten­ing? The peo­ple of our great state want new rev­enue to ensure that we have great pub­lic schools, col­leges, and uni­ver­si­ties. Our sur­vey finds that sup­port for a cap­i­tal gains tax is over­whelm­ing. Vot­ers in every region of the state want this, not just vot­ers in urban King Coun­ty. It’s time to stop tweet­ing out mis­lead­ing charts and make a com­mit­ment to meet our state’s para­mount duty — amply pro­vid­ing for the edu­ca­tion of all Wash­ing­ton’s children.

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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