Thursday, April 30, 2009

It's a sorry state of affairs…

…when the Spokesman Review editorial page is out in front of our Democratic legistature on progressive taxation...
...The state is relatively rich, but it has a tax code that’s unsuited to tapping that wealth. The result is that high-income households send relatively large sums to the feds and relatively paltry amounts to the state. Conversely, the state taxes the poor at the highest levels in the nation because of the heavy reliance on our regressive sales tax.

If the state instituted an income tax and lowered the sales tax, it could begin to address its chronic budget deficits and lower the tax burden for most Washingtonians. It’s the same argument that was laid out by the Gates Commission several years ago, but lawmakers failed to act.
It's probably true that the S-R is ahead of a lot of voters, too, including (especially?) its east of the Cascade Curtain readership, but the shameful difference is that most of our Democratic legislators already understand the truth that the paper puts so clearly and succinctly.

There are really only two explanations that come to mind for their continued inaction. One is raw political cowardice, the refusal to do - or even say - the right thing for fear of election day reprisal. At some point the question must be put, though. Knowing that our state is on an unstable, inequitable and ultimately unsustainable economic path, what's the point of holding onto a spot in the funeral detail? How can you go back to Olympia again and again knowing that the system is broken at a fundamental level and believing that you can't do anything about it?

The other explanation is no more attractive. It's the arrogance of those who know that our revenue system is deeply flawed, know that there is a solution and know that many - perhaps most - of their constituents can realize a reduced state tax burden and simply don't believe their constituents have the capacity to grasp the legislator's advanced knowledge. I've known a few legislators in my time - even took a shot at becoming one - and I can tell you that they're not that smart and we're not that dumb. The challenge of educating the electorate wouldn't be a small one, especially since we've conceded the debate to reactionary forces for so long, but neither is it an insurmountable one.

For Democrats, leadership on creating a fair and reliable revenue structure for the state is a responsibility we can no longer shirk. This isn't the other Washington. We have big majorities. There are no filibusters. For right now, for better or for worse, we own Olympia, and it's broken. If we don't fix it for fear that we'll lose it, we'll lose it just the same, and have no one to blame and nothing to show.

Hat tip to Goldy.

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