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Washingtonians really, really want a capital gains tax to address education funding crisis

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.