This morning, the New York Times published a new opinion video provocatively titled “Blue States, You’re the Problem,” in which Johnny Harris and editorialist Binyamin Appelbaum take aim at a selection of the nation’s Democratic-run states for supposedly failing to live up to their values.
The fourteen plus minute video consists of an introductory segment followed by a set of three critiques concerning issues in three different states under Democratic governance: California, Washington, and Connecticut.
The California segment focuses on housing, the Connecticut segment on education, and the Washington segment on our state’s upside down tax code.
Several Cascadia Advocate readers were particularly interested in the Washington segment and got in touch to ask for NPI’s take on it.
Our team watched the video and came away pretty disappointed.
Here’s a transcript of the Washington segment:
HARRIS: Let’s go to another liberal bastion, up here in Washington State. The Democratic Party talks about taxation, saying that our tax code has been “rigged against the American people”. Democrats all the time are decrying the fact that tax cuts are going to the wealthiest Americans.
ELIZABETH WARREN [CLIP]: It is time for a wealth tax in America!
HARRIS: Democrats believe in a progressive tax system where the rich pay a larger share of their income than the poor.
This is like the most basic policy vision of, like, a progressive movement. It’s front and center in Democrats’ policy platform.
APPELBAUM: But if you go and look at Washington State, what you find is that in Washington State, if you look at the state and local taxes that people pay there, less affluent families pay a much larger share of their income in taxes than the wealthiest residents of Washington State.
So people like Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos — two of the state’s most famous and wealthy residents — are in this lovely situation of, of paying less in taxes as a share of their income than the poor people who live in that same state. And this is a fundamental inversion of the values that the Democratic Party professes. There is no state with a more regressive system of taxation than Washington State.
HARRIS: And I’m talking like the most regressive meaning [more so than] Texas. Which is like the conservative bastion of like anti taxes… is more progressive than Washington State, liberal Washington State.
How is that real?
Oh, and guess what other states on our map also are in the top ten of most regressive tax regimes, like Nevada and Illinois.
APPELBAUM: There have been some changes, particularly in recent years, but the overall situation remains resistant to change.
CLIP FROM THE SEATTLE CHANNEL, UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: So I’m very concerned that at this time — which is a very poor time to disincent people from creating jobs in Washington State — that we’re even considering it.
APPELBAUM: From that paycheck that you earn more of that money is going to state government. And so the effect of that is basically to exacerbate inequality.
HARRIS: Okay. So rich liberals don’t show up when it comes to housing or taxes.
The oddest part of the segment is a clip from the Seattle Channel that shows up near the end, seemingly for no reason. It consists of a short sound bite in which a speaker says he’s very concerned that we’re considering “it”.
What’s “it,” a viewer might be wondering? What is this speaker referring to? A proposal to do what, exactly, that the speaker fears could disincent job creation?
Harris and Appelbaum don’t bother to explain. They simply wrap up their comments about Washington and move on to their next state, Connecticut.
While Harris and Appelbaum do a good job explaining how upside down Washington State’s tax code is (making use of ITEP’s rankings and state by state data for their visuals), they did not bother to dive into any of the fascinating history that explains how we got to where we are. That history dates back nearly a century, to a series of events that took place in the 1930s… including a disastrous, indefensibly reasoned and extremely consequential Supreme Court ruling striking down a people’s initiative that would have levied an income tax.
Nor did they talk about what the Legislature and Governor Inslee have recently done to address the problem. If you watch the video, you might be left with the impression that Washington’s Democratic leadership isn’t doing anything to make Washington’s tax code more progressive, when in fact, the Legislature and Governor Inslee have taken a number of important steps towards securing a fairer tax code for the Evergreen State in the last few legislative sessions.
- Making the real estate excise tax (REET) more progressive
- Repealing tax breaks that powerful interests like Wall Street banks used to enjoy at Washingtonians’ expense
- Levying a capital gains tax on the wealthy to support education
- Funding the Working Families Tax Credit (WFTC)
Importantly, the state’s new capital gains tax requires the wealthy to pay more while the WFTC reduces tax obligations for Washington’s least affluent people. Legislators have commendably been working on this problem from both ends.
These were hard fought wins achieved during the 2019 and 2021 sessions over the objections of Republican legislators and even, in some cases, more conservative Democratic legislators like Mark Mullet of Issaquah.
There’s more to do, of course, which is why Democratic legislators are currently working on proposals to levy a wealth tax on billionaires, raise the estate tax, and make property taxes more progressive and equitable. Legislators are also holding tax town halls this autumn to hear from Washingtonians on this very topic.
None of this — none of it — was mentioned by Harris or Appelbaum.
The duo also neglected to mention that Washington has the initiative and referendum, and that right wing forces represented by Tim Eyman have historically used those powers of direct democracy to try to keep Washington’s tax code permanently broken and rigged in favor of the wealthy and the powerful. Washington may have Democratic leadership, but that doesn’t mean there are no obstacles or barriers in the way of achieving a goal like progressive tax reform.
Context matters. History matters. Yet so much of the political commentary being published nowadays is shallow instead of substantive. Superficial instead of solid. Sensational instead of studious. And that’s a shame.
Rather than diving into the issues and trying to unpack what’s really happening in America’s Democratic run states, and why, Harris and Appelbaum zoomed through three weighty topics at warp speed, then threw their discussion up on the NYT’s website as clickbait for the publication’s liberal leaning audience.
“Blue States, You’re the Problem” certainly has excellent production values and slick visuals. The discussion, on the other hand, leaves a lot to be desired. This video could have been so much better… deeper, richer, and more informative.
What a missed opportunity.