Building an Economy that Works for Everyone

Orwell would be proud of Columbian’s stance on I-1098

The Columbian’s editorial against Initiative 1077 (now I-1098) is an impressive feat of doublespeak — one in which democracy means elected representatives don’t vote to change laws, judges don’t hear cases or interpret the law, and making it possible for more people to succeed somehow limits success.

The Columbian’s first criticism basically boils down to being unhappy that elected legislators are empowered to use a majority vote to change laws and rewrite budgets:

Many legislators this year clearly demonstrated their willingness to raise taxes, even in defiance of voter-imposed restrictions, and in years to come they’ll surely find ways to bypass a few pesky rules that Initiative 1077 would set forth.

If the Columbian’s definition of democracy is “a political system in which elected representatives only obey the will of voters as expressed four or more years ago” then their beef isn’t with I-1098’s tax reforms — it’s with the entire state constitution, and some basic principles of democracy.

Yes, Washington’s constitution allows a legislative majority to override or modify an initiative after two years. But those checks and balances are built into our democratic institutions for good reason: laws need to be able to change with the times. Perhaps the Columbian will next advocate for a constitutional convention or amendment so in order to rewrite those rules — but that seems unlikely, to say the least.

(Note that I’m skipping the “wealth flight” argument that comes next in the column, since that canard has already been debunked.)

Next, the Columbian takes on the constitutionality of I-1098, basically arguing that judges shouldn’t sit in court and listen to arguments regarding the current interpretation of laws:

More than once the state Supreme Court has ruled, essentially, that a state income tax violates the state constitution. Some legal experts argue that those rulings are antiquated and could be interpreted differently by a modern court. Again, though, why meander into that judicial quicksand?

Sure. Since the legal interpretation of a law never changes things significantly, why bother?

The Columbian’s final argument is that cutting taxes for a small business owner won’t help them be successful, but having quite successful people pay a modest tax on income over $200,000 a year will destroy the state’s business climate:

As one of just seven states with no personal income tax, the Times correctly declared, “We are one of the few states that can say, ‘We levy no tax on success.’ ”

What’s odd about that statement is that believing it requires being either blind to, or willfully ignorant of, this simple and salient fact: Washington’s business and operations (B&O) tax is calculated on gross income from business activities, with no deductions for labor, materials, taxes, or other costs of doing business.

In other words, hundreds of thousands of small business owners, even if they don’t make a penny in profit, have to pay tax on sales of their services and products. That is certainly not a recipe for the success of our state’s small businesses.

And that is the reason why I-1077/1098 proposes raising the small business tax credit from $420 to $4,800 per year — eliminating B&O taxes for an estimated 81% of all Washington businesses (up from 43%), and cutting B&O taxes for another 12%. In the Columbian’s editorial, those facts just don’t seem to matter.

Looking back over their column, I think Orwell would have been proud of the Columbian’s writing. Not as an editorial, mind you, but certainly as a work of fiction.

Looking for more information about Initiative 1098? Visit the Economic Opportunity Institute website.

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