Members of my generation – the “Zoomers” born between 1995-2012 – might be surprised to learn that Washington is one of just seven U.S. states that does not have a state income tax. But they probably wouldn’t be as surprised (nor displeased, given their left-leaning politics I’ve written about previously) to find out that on the first day of the current legislative session, Democratic lawmakers filed a petition with the State Supreme Court asking for them to reverse nearly a century of case law and allow a graduated income tax without amending the state’s constitution.
The Democrat’s brief asks the State Supreme Court to act favorably on a City of Seattle case to “determine the constitutionality of the graduated income tax passed by the City of Seattle and to find that the legal underpinnings that supported the Supreme Court precedent in the 1930’s no longer exist.”
While Olympia liberals quickly rallied together to support yet another tax in order to make up for Washington’s “regressive” tax system, the citizens seem to want something different. According to an opposing brief submitted on January 30th, which countered the original petition, “Voters have rejected proposed graduated income taxes ten times in all. Of significance to the issue of stare decisis (precedent) here, Washington voters have six times rejected proposed constitutional amendments to allow income taxation not subject to the property tax uniformity restriction. All were voted down resoundingly, with at least 64% opposition to every proposed amendment since 1940; the most recent was rejected by 77% of voters statewide.”
Given the voters’ demonstrated proof of opposition to a state income tax, why are Democrat legislators making this their first order of business?
As is typical of the professional left, the lawmakers have put aside the many disadvantages of this job-killing approach in order to claim that “the top moneymakers aren’t paying their fair share.” Politicians from Democratic Socialist presidential candidate Bernie Sanders to socialist Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant have demonized those who have achieved success through entrepreneurship and hard work.
This tendency for disliking people who profit is made glaringly obvious in the state lawmakers’ petition, which states that “the share of family income paid in state and local taxes has increased for Washington state’s low-income families, who are paying 17.8% of their income in state and local taxes while the top 4% of taxpayers are paying only 4.7% and the top 1% of taxpayers are paying only 3% of their income respectively.” While these numbers may at first seem unfair to lower-income families, it is essential to note that tax rates do not equal tax amount. It only takes a simple calculation to find that the actual dollars generated by the tax rates that the wealthy pay are far more than tax dollars paid by lower-income and middle-class taxpayers. This shows that this isn’t actually a matter of the top earners avoiding taxation, as much as the liberals want to make that seem the case.
If the left can’t place the blame on the wealthy, then they run to the defense of providing help for lower-class families. This poses a second question: Won’t this state income tax eventually be extended to lower-income families who can’t afford another strain on finances? Since Democrats in Washington State always seem willing to extend taxes beyond their original scope, it is probably safe to assume that a state income tax will eventually not be welcomed by lower-earning taxpayers.
The petition “justifies” the need for a state income tax by suggesting that another tax would help to provide more access to “essential” social programs: “Raising revenue is clearly a power and responsibility of the legislature and it is for local governments as well. Local governments as well as the State need a broad range of tools for raising revenues to fund essential public services.”
A quick look at the extensive list of “essential” state programs proves that the state is vastly overspending. One new addition is the Washington College Promise Scholarship, valued at $103 million in Governor Inslee’s 2019-2021 budget proposal, which provides a full ride to students from middle-to-low-income families. Less than one year after a tax was passed to fund this program, the legislature has already this session broadened that tax to raise more money, as it turns out that people take free money if the government gives it out sans repercussions.
Perhaps another problem that can be seen is in Jay Inslee’s empty promises. He was elected in 2012, in part, by promising to veto tax increases. Yet, he has included tax increases in every budget he has submitted to the legislature. The most recent one asked for a whopping $54 billion in spending, a $10 billion increase from the previous budget. How can this drastic increase be rationalized when state revenues are at an all-time high?
A quick look at a state two borders down from us shows a likely future. California is notorious for fiscal irresponsibility – with an accumulated debt of $152 billion. Democrat Governor Gavin Newsom hardly poses a solution as he spent over $650 million to fund homelessness while blatantly refusing to cut the problems at the source of the crisis. As a result of the irresponsible spending, the state saw a 20,000 person increase in the homeless population.
So perhaps the problem isn’t a lack of money. Perhaps instead it is misguided priorities and legislators too quick to look to new taxes so they can spend more money. Perhaps Democrats in Olympia should remember that Washington voters have rejected an income tax 10 times, and stop trying to force an unwanted bill on voters who will eventually pay more than what is necessary or fair.
— Laura Wright