Hard times mean hard decisions. Every budget cutter from Olympia to King County to City Hall knows this. No bubble is going to save us next year, no sudden outburst of generosity. We have less money, we have to tighten belts and rethink how we do things. Some ideas that we've resisted in the past have to be considered if we're going to get through this.
I am a small-government progressive. I think liberals ought to be fiscally conservative, that government ought to be lean and compassionate. It cuts a couple of ways: We need to spend less and empower people to do more for themselves without fear of litigation. I believe in activist government, faster and smarter, but also in reforms that reduce the need for lawyers, insurance companies, selfish unions, and bureaucratic ass-covering.
While many people say this isn't the time to raise taxes, I disagree. As a fiscally conservative liberal I believe you have to cut spending and raise revenues. My experience managing budgets over the years says you have to work them from both sides of the ledger. Which is why I think the state, county and city have to increase revenues while they are slashing people and services. You have to get to something sustainable without drowning the baby in the bathtub, Club for Growth-style.
So as much as I hate tax increases, I think voters ought to support the sales tax increase for King County as an odious emergency measure. At the same time, we need to keep the state tax on soda pop and candy. And while I think the state ultimately ought to be out of the liquor business, and at the very least deregulate it, I don't see any crying need right now to make it easier for the public to buy more and cheaper booze. I like Costco, but they'll do just fine without selling the hard stuff to suburban drunks. The state, counties, and cities, however, need the revenues state liquor sales generate. So, for the time being, I say keep the state in the booze business and figure a graceful exit when there's no government funding crisis.
I'm not a fan of income taxes either, but I applaud the efforts of the two Bill Gates, especially Senior, in seeking passage of I-1098. I think this initiative demonstrates two things.
One, it makes the case that any income-style tax must come with the goal of tax fairness, of easing the burden on lower income people and small business. This proposal starts us on that path: moving the tax burden to the higher earners while easing state B&O and state property taxes. It attempts to do the right thing, and rather than dismissing it as the camel's nose under the tent, we ought to be rewarding the sanity and precedent of the progressive trade-off it tries to accomplish. The wealthy in this state pay too little, everyone else pays too much.
I will also quote from the inscription on the statue in Olympia of Washington's only Populist governor (and my favorite), John Rankin Rogers: "I would make it impossible for the covetous and avaricious to utterly impoverish the poor. The rich can take care of themselves."
The wealthy have a larger responsibility and this initiative with the Gates' supporting it makes a huge positive statement about the need for the haves to do more for the have-nots. Weirdly, in this day and age, the Republicans seem to think it's the other way around: that the rich deserve the tax cuts and the government should be taking care of them. I think it's time for rich people welfare reform.
Second, the initiative is an example of the need for citizens initiatives, which liberals, especially, love to hate. Win or lose, its backers are trying to accomplish what only a very few elected leaders have been willing to address: comprehensive tax reform and a more progressive tax system. The I-1098 supporters have grabbed the third rail of local politics and are swinging it like a club. More power to them.
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