Opinion

Washington taxpayers endure domestic abuse | Angie Vogt

Washington state taxpayers are suffering from a serious cycle of abuse — let's call it Battered Taxpayer Syndrome. The cycle is predictable. We work and pay taxes. They take the money, get drunk, beat us up, manipulate a little language until we quiet down a bit, then start over again. This is the pattern established after a few decades of one-party rule.

These past two weeks in Olympia have been stressful and contentious. Gov. Christine Gregoire signed the bill that repealed I-960, the people's initiative that required a two-thirds majority for the Legislature to raise taxes. Just as the bruises from that drubbing began to set in, the Legislature put out a bill with just a title and number, but no text. It was referred to as the "ghost" bill. At 11:30 a.m., the "powers that be" announced that public comments would be taken on the "ghost bill" at 3:30 p.m. the same day.

So the public, not having any access to the contents of the bill, would be given a chance to comment publicly on whether they agreed or disagreed with the proposed bill, but had four hours to get their "arsses" down to Olympia if they wanted to weigh in. Oh yeah, we knew it had to do with taxes, but that's about all we knew. People who showed up to testify were given a copy of the actual bill upon arrival, giving them little time, if any, to read it and prepare a comment.

It turns out the bill was a proposal to institute a state income tax on "high earners." It gets better. Sen. Lisa Brown, who has for years been trying to convince us that if we really know what's best for us we would all support a state income tax, proposed that a version of this ghost bill be presented to the people for a vote on November's ballot. The people would be allowed to weigh-in on this bill by answering one simple question that will appear as a referendum: "Should the state reduce the sales tax and institute a 4.5 percent income tax on high earners?"

What does this mean? It means that Olympia Democrats are doing what they always do: Instilling class warfare to get what they want. What will really happen if the voters answer "yes" to this question? After a year or so, the sales tax will go back up (because they will tell us that orphans are lining the streets and grandma is eating dog food) and the state income tax will expand to include "middle-high income earners," until it eventually includes everyone who works. They are counting on our gullibility and guilt to get more money to fund the commitments they've made to their interest groups. This is the manipulative part of the abuse.

Perhaps even more beguiling is why they bother to put this legislation on the ballot for public vote. They just repealed an initiative (I-960) that we passed three times and one that they attacked and challenged in court four times. Why would we believe that they actually care about the will of the voters anyway?

But what about all the cuts to services and programs that the Legislature has had to make? Aren't the poor getting turned away for much needed services as it is? The dirty little secret is that our legislators, in spite of the wailing and tearful speeches, have increased spending by $1.3 billion for the 2009-2011 budget. That is not a typo — the total spending for the next budget includes new spending for new entitlements and programs.

One example is a new middle class entitlement for pre-K education.

Add to the increased spending the fact that legislators are counting a one-time federal stimulus payment (that we are projected to get in 2011) as revenue available to help cover this new spending. That's a little like deciding you can afford a more expensive mortgage based on your 2011 tax refund. Last year, lawmakers balanced the budget by using a one-time $3 billion federal stimulus payment, while keeping and increasing budget obligations.

They are devising ways to increase your taxes (reducing your take home pay) to fund increases such as state employee benefits and salaries. State employees received a 25 percent increase in their salaries between 2005-2009, even while they earn an average $5,302 more per year than their private sector counterparts. Funding these premium benefits on the back of taxpayers is unsustainable.

One option, suggested and practiced by several states, is to contract out to private companies the services provided by government. It's a better deal for the taxpayer and keeps services operating more efficiently on a business model, rather than on a bureaucratic model. The governor had the option of declaring a state of emergency (which they often do with spending bills that require more taxes, but are loathe to do when it comes to cutting their spending). By declaring a state of emergency (given that we are operating on a path toward certain bankruptcy), the governor would be allowed to renegotiate state employee contracts.

They won't consider this option — state employee unions play the role of abuser's mistress. She gets the flowers and expensive penthouse apartment, while we get to pay for it.

Now a special session is under way. They are not in gridlock about spending cuts, but on which taxes to increase. And so the cycle of abuse continues.

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