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 revenue, while 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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