State needs a ‘high incomes’ tax

From the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

We applaud the long history, investigative journalism, and incisive and wise editorial work of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Even in the face of its impending closure, the P-I continues to be a central voice for improving our society and pointing out the pathway we need to take.

Next month we presume we will not be receiving the P-I at our doorsteps, but we must proceed with the public policy for which the P-I has been a courageous voice. That policy centers on the intertwined strategies of remaking our upside-down tax system and fully funding education, from pre-kindergarten to K-12 to the community college and four-year higher educational system. If we succeed in these efforts, we will lay the foundation for the advancement of our state, our economy and our citizens in the 21st century. If we fail, we will be left behind.

We have the most regressive tax regime in the country. Middle-class and low-income families pay much more in taxes proportionally than the wealthy. Absent an income tax, our over-reliance on the sales tax and property tax also results in insufficient public revenues to fund the public services, especially education, that 21st century Washington citizens deserve and demand.

That’s why funding per pupil has now dropped below 88 percent of the national average for our K-12 students. It’s why we are 46th of the 50 states in our student-teacher ratios in public school. It’s why out of every 100 ninth graders, only 69 receive their high school diploma on time. It’s why we fail to provide high-quality pre-kindergarten for the vast majority of Washington’s young children. It’s why 29 states are ahead of us in funding for higher education academic research. It’s why public college tuition has tripled in the past 30 years, while proportional state appropriations have shrunk. At the University of Washington, the state has reduced its responsibility to less than half of tuition costs, offloading more expenses to middle-class and low-income families.

Even in the midst of this recession, there is a solution to this public failure. A group of citizens is coming together to promote a “high incomes” income tax. It would be offset with an across-the-board cut of the state property tax. The new net revenue would be dedicated to public education.

The vast majority of middle-class families would get a tax cut, the highest income families would pay an added tax (which they would get to deduct from their federal income taxes), and the children and students of our state would get a boost in the billions of dollars for their education and future well being, prosperity, and productivity. We anticipate a multi-year educational campaign to achieve this vision for our future.

Can we realize this in our state? The better question is why not. After all, we in King County live in the fourth wealthiest county per capita in the country. We have no excuse to prevent us from reforming our tax system to provide for high quality education for all of our children. That’s the American way. And it is a fitting legacy for the leadership, the citizenship, and the vision of the P-I.

Authors of this column are Bill Gates Sr., Aubrey Davis, Marilyn Watkins, Phyllis Lamphere and John Burbank.

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