Gov. Gregoire misses the budget boat | Letters
November 29, 2011 · 10:47 AM
As you should know by now, the state is again facing a major budget shortfall ($2 billion) and again, Gov. Chris Gregoire has had to make some major and painful cuts to state funding to meet this problem.
As I pointed out in my letter “The good, the bad and the ugly,” one of the cuts that will hurt the Federal Way School District the most is the cut to levy authorization funding.
As far as the cuts Gregoire has proposed, we are talking about devastating cuts to education (on top of ones already made), social services and public safety. This would include a $152 million cut in payments to property-poor school districts, shortening the school year by four days (equates to 2.2 percent pay cut for teachers), $160 million to higher educations (i.e., another hike in tuition fees in all likelihood) and releasing some prisoners 150 days early.
There is another solution to this problem besides making more painful cuts to our state budget (which the lawmakers have already done) and that is to raise revenue. The $54,000 question is “where do we get the money from and will the voters approve the tax increase?” Trying to get the voters to approve any tax increase is a major challenge, given the state of our economy and an unemployment rate that seems to be stuck around 9 percent.
As many residents who have suffered long-term unemployment, finding a job these days can also be a major challenge for a variety of reasons. A perfect example was a close friend who was unemployed for more than a year before she finally found a job, and a relative who was laid off and will have been unemployed for more than three years when she completes her retraining.
Gov. Gregoire has proposed to raise almost $500 million by raising the state sales tax 0.5 percent (from 6.5 percent to 7 percent) for a period of three years. It would have to be approved by two-thirds of the Legislature (not likely) or by the voters. If approved, we would be tied with five other states for the second highest state sales tax (only California with 7.25 percent is higher).
For those living in King County, our sales tax would jump to 10 percent or 10 cents for every dollar you spend. Forcing people to pay a higher sales tax would not spur the economy, but force them to cut back on “non-essential spending.”
There is another reason this is a bad idea. The sales tax is a regressive tax, which means it hurts the poor and middle class more than the rich. Is this fair? I don’t think so. So the answer is the opposite, a “progressive tax.” Examples could be a state income tax on the rich, an excise tax or maybe a sales tax on things like water, pop and candy. Like the Costco initiative to privatize liquor, the state income tax initiative on the rich left out one important thing: it would have to be limited (like three years) and it would have to include a guarantee that it would not be extended to those making less than $250,000 a year and then the voters might pass it. An excise tax would require owners of property (luxury vehicles, boats and planes) to pay more (i.e. the rich) because they are the ones that can afford expensive cars, boats and private planes.
Is this fair? Yes, when compared to a 0.5 percent sales tax increase.
Gary Robertson, Federal Way