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Now that voters have spoken, what'll our leaders do?

Our state and national leaders may have been elected on social platforms, but their upcoming agendas will be dominated by taxing and spending issues.


The 2012 political-campaign messaging has stopped, thank God. Election post-mortems have focused a great deal on ethnic, gender, cultural and social divides — and issues associated with them. But now that governance resumes, we'll be most absorbed with unresolved financial/economic issues cutting across those divides and bread-and-butter decisions about taxing, spending and priorities. This is true in Washington, D.C., in Olympia, in West Seattle or Enumclaw.

Here at home, dollars-and-cents will rule: Washington state, King County and Seattle voters reaffirmed their previous messages to elected officials by approving discrete measures they thought worthwhile — such as repairing the Elliott Bay seawall or instituting a new fingerprint system — but by keeping them on a short leash when it came to new taxing and spending.  
 
Voters approved I-1185, strictly limiting state legislators' ability to raise taxes and fees. They also rejected the notion of allowing the University of Washington and Washington State University to invest their monies in stocks and bonds. The latter probably was due to voter suspicion about national-level proposals to allow Social Security funds to be similarly invested and, also, to the schools' big recent losses to their endowments. They did, significantly, approve a lowering of the permissible state debt limit. No doubt about the overall message. Gov.-elect Jay Inslee also took a "no new taxes" pledge, rare for a Democrat, which he will be hard pressed to keep.
 
Just as at national level, the way out of the state's budget box lies in tax reform, which would yield huge amounts of public revenuewhile simultaneously keeping the code progressive. This will be difficult for our new governor and Legislature, since some of the biggest tax benefits flow to powerhouse companies such as Boeing and Microsoft.  But state Rep. Reuven Carlyle's proposal in the last legislative session, to review such "tax expenditures" on a rolling basis, could yield real results — and money — over a 4-  to 6-year period.  
 
We're not going to enact a state income tax. Voters have signaled their instructions regarding tax and fee increases. The only major source left to fill our residual state budget gaps is in review and repeal of some of the present subsidies and loopholes benefiting politically favored companies and sectors.
 
Local voters, year after year, have demonstrated themselves willing to approve levies for specific purposes judged meritorious, including not only the seawall-repair and fingerprint ID system approved Tuesday, but also the recent King County children and family services bond levy and Seattle Public Library operating levy.
 
Next up: Two Seattle School Board-sponsored levies will appear on a February ballot, costing taxpayers $1.25 billion over six years.
 
We've got some big public money invested in Sound Transit light rail, the Mercer Project, the Yesler Terrace redevelopment, a new Sodo arena project, streetcars and other projects — some screamingly cost-ineffective (that is, far more expensive than dollars spent on alternative approaches to the same problems). Local and state governments are in exactly the same position as our national government, facing unacceptable levels of long-term debt, unable to raise general taxes appreciably and forced to make difficult taxing/spending choices about publicly-financed priorities.
 
You don't have to be a weatherman, as they say, to see which way the wind is blowing on taxing/spending issues. We've got to reduce our long-term red ink while still financing those things we regard as truly important to us.  And we must do it without jeopardizing badly needed short-term jobs and growth.
 
No wonder campaigning is easier than governing. You get elected by pleasing people and giving them what they want. You must govern by telling them to choose between their vegetables and dessert.


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Comments:

Posted Sat, Nov 10, 7:59 p.m. Inappropriate

For a guy who brings up Simpson-Bowles ad nauseum, TVD seems unfamiliar with a key proposal in the chairmen's final report regarding the mortgage interest deduction:
http://www.fiscalcommission.gov/sites/fiscalcommission.gov/files/documents/TheMomentofTruth12_1_2010.pdf
12% non-refundable tax credit available to all taxpayers; Mortgage capped at $500,000; No credit for interest from second residence and equity.
TVD seems not to know that Simpson-Bowles does indeed dent this politically popular deduction. I happen to agree with this proposal. I sure wish more Americans understood that working-class and middle-class people would actually benefit from this proposal, and that the current mortgage interest deduction is heavily skewed to benefit wealthier people with expensive homes and vacation residences.
Also, TVD's suggestion that the battle over taxes and government programs is like choosing between eating your vegetables and dessert is offensive and clueless. He doesn't seem to get that maintaining Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, college aid, etc. etc. is hardly a matter of frills. It's a matter of survival. Budget hawks like TVD still have not explained to us how lower-income and working-class people struggling to get by will be able to handle the types of cuts the budget hawks favor.

Posted Tue, Nov 13, 9:47 a.m. Inappropriate

A couple brief updates to this piece.

In listing costly local projects, I neglected to mention the deep-bore tunnel which will replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct and, of course, the 520 bridge renovation which is being only partially paid for with tolls. The Seattle City Council, additionally, wants to spend $10 million to study extension of street car lines in the city. The street cars are horrendously expensive as compared to simple expansion of existing bus service.

The state Charter School proposal, not discussed in this piece, has since passed narrowly. It does not relate directly to taxing/spending decisions but reflects general public impatience with performance of public institutions.

At national level, it now seems likely that only Education Secretary Arne Duncan, an old Obama pal from Chicago, is likely to remain among present members of the Obama Cabinet. This signifies a big shift from many prior administrations, where first-term Cabinet members stayed on
through a second term.

Re the Dec. 31 "fiscal cliff": I've talked with several senior Democrats in the Congress who are generally optimistic that a satisfactory deal can get made to avert the crisis. However, after initial conciliatory statements, both White House and congressional Republicans have begun to harden their language. We appeared headed to the brink before any deal can get done.

Posted Tue, Nov 13, 9:57 a.m. Inappropriate

As usual, TVD refuses to acknowledge the need for a correction. That's not how credible pundits operate.

Posted Wed, Nov 14, 5:40 a.m. Inappropriate

What Harris Meyers doesn't seem to get that maintaining and expanding Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, college aid, etc. etc. in their current form, without reforms is a form of bribery of the electorate. It's a matter of survival for the Democrat party in both Washingtons.

Cameron

Posted Thu, Nov 15, 12:49 p.m. Inappropriate

Stupid question: Now that voters have spoken, what'll our leaders do?

They will return to ignoring what we say.

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