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.

Thursday, February 21st, 2019

Good news: House Democrats introduce bill to create progressive tax reform task force

Since the release of the Wash­ing­ton State Tax Struc­ture Study six­teen years ago, there’s been a lot of talk about fix­ing our upside down tax code, but not much action. Democ­rats in the Wash­ing­ton State Leg­is­la­ture hope to change that this ses­sion by tack­ling the prob­lem from two dif­fer­ent approach­es.

To make our tax code less regres­sive in the short term, Demo­c­ra­t­ic leg­is­la­tors have pro­posed levy­ing a cap­i­tal gains excise tax on the wealthy, fund­ing the Work­ing Fam­i­lies Tax Cred­it, get­ting rid of tax exemp­tions not in the pub­lic inter­est, and cre­at­ing a tax expen­di­ture bud­get… all bills that NPI sup­ports.

Now, to tack­le the prob­lem over the long term, State Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Noel Frame and Gael Tar­leton (both D‑36th Dis­trict) have intro­duced House Bill 2117. This leg­is­la­tion would cre­ate a task force to set Wash­ing­ton on a path­way to devel­op­ing a cred­i­ble, com­pre­hen­sive, and pol­ished plan to over­haul our unfair tax code.

Frame and Tar­leton each have a deep famil­iar­i­ty with the pol­i­tics sur­round­ing pub­lic finance. Both have served with non­prof­it orga­ni­za­tions devot­ed to over­haul­ing Wash­ing­ton’s tax code. Tar­leton is a found­ing board­mem­ber of this orga­ni­za­tion, the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute, and Frame is the for­mer exec­u­tive direc­tor of Pro­gres­sive Major­i­ty Wash­ing­ton, which lat­er became Ampli­fy.

Frame and Tar­leton’s leg­is­la­tion, HB 2117, seeks to “pro­vide a path­way to mod­ern­ize and rebal­ance the Wash­ing­ton state tax struc­ture so that it is equi­table, ade­quate, sta­ble, and trans­par­ent for the peo­ple of Wash­ing­ton State.”

The bil­l’s pre­am­ble tells the sto­ry of how Wash­ing­ton end­ed up with a tax code that requires those with the most to pay the least in tax­es, while those with the least pay the most. It then spec­i­fies that a bipar­ti­san work­group with rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the exec­u­tive branch shall be appoint­ed and tasked with devel­op­ing a com­pre­hen­sive tax reform plan for con­sid­er­a­tion by the 2023 leg­isla­tive ses­sion.

Washington State's tax code is upside down

Since Wash­ing­ton’s Leg­is­la­ture does­n’t meet year round, ses­sions tend to be dom­i­nat­ed by bud­get­ing and pol­i­cy­mak­ing. There’s just not much time for long term plan­ning or crit­i­cal think­ing about our state’s tough­est, most dif­fi­cult prob­lems. And so those prob­lems go unad­dressed, year after year and bien­ni­um after bien­ni­um. HB 2117 seeks to break this cycle of inac­tion.

If you read the bill, you’ll see the intent is not to sim­ply autho­rize yet anoth­er study of a well known prob­lem. Rather, it’s to cre­ate a team of lead­ers to devel­op, explore, and exam­ine pos­si­ble solu­tions for fair rev­enue on a set sched­ule. The bill gives the group a set of spe­cif­ic dead­lines by which they must achieve their objec­tives.

HB 2117 can­not be the extent of what the Leg­is­la­ture does to advance the cause of pro­gres­sive tax reform this ses­sion. But it does rep­re­sent a piece of the puz­zle that has his­tor­i­cal­ly been miss­ing… the long-term plan­ning piece. We’re hap­py to sup­port it. Kudos to Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Frame and Tar­leton for putting it togeth­er.

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