Opinion

Right wing vs. tax reform in Washington | Andrew Villeneuve

More than a decade after Tim Eyman qualified his first anti-public services initiative to the ballot, it appears that voters are finally going to get the chance to vote for tax reform instead of tax cuts.

A coalition of progressive public interest groups, led by William Gates Sr., is pushing ahead with an initiative that would create an income tax on high-earners. The initiative is built around two closely related and important ideas: Making our tax system fairer for middle and low income families while simultaneously strengthening our common wealth.

Initiative 1098 is sorely needed. Today, taxes fall most heavily upon those who have the least, while those who have the most hardly pay anything. The numbers are startling: According to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, families in the lowest income bracket pay 17.3 percent of their income in state and local taxes. That’s nearly a fifth. But the top 1 percent, which encompasses the millionaires and the billionaires, only pay 2.9 percent.

Our tax system is grossly unfair because our primary source of revenue is consumption taxes, which are inherently regressive because they don’t take into account ability to pay. Consider the following scenario: Two men are at a hardware store somewhere in the Evergreen State buying supplies for their household. The first is an unemployed father who is struggling to pay the mortgage, provide for his family, and avoid foreclosure. The second man is an investment fund manager with a seven-figure income who owns not one, but two houses, plus a luxury yacht.

It just so happens that these two men happen to be buying the same things: A new filter for their refrigerator and some lumber. When they check out, they pay the same sales tax.

If Initiative 1098 qualifies for the ballot and is approved by voters, an income tax would be levied on individuals making more than $200,000 a year ($400,000 for couples). Revenue from the new high-earners income tax would be used to cancel the state’s business and occupation tax for 80 percent of small businesses, and reduce the state property tax levy by 20 percent. The estimated $1 billion leftover would be dedicated to better public schools and health care. The vast majority of Washington families would see their taxes decrease, but funding for our most important public services would be strengthened. Everybody wins.

Unfortunately, not everybody sees it that way. The right wing is steadfastly opposed to Initiative 1098 because it doesn’t jibe with their moral system. In their eyes, wealth equals success, and success should not be taxed. Conservative mythology holds that anyone who has a fortune has worked hard to make their money and deserves to keep it. The poor are only poor because they aren’t disciplined enough to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.

Conservatives are wrong. No one makes a fortune on his or her own. Every successful businessperson takes advantage of the vast infrastructure paid for by the taxpayers to start and maintain their business, whether that’s highways, the Internet, or the nine-tenths of the courts that deal with corporate law.

Since the earliest days of this country, we have pooled our resources to meet needs that we can’t take care of our own. It is this idea — the idea of the common wealth — that makes America, and Washington, work.

By voting yes on Initiative 1098, we can keep our common wealth strong by ensuring that the wealthiest and richest among us are paying their fair share to support the public services we all use and rely on.

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