Building an Economy that Works for Everyone

Two lessons for Washington’s legislators from the 2014 election

Marilyn Watkins, Policy Director

Marilyn Watkins, Policy Director

Reading what voters really want from election results is a tricky business. But now that the 2014 election contests are pretty much decided, here are some lessons for Washington’s legislators to consider for their 2015 session:

First: Paid sick days and a minimum wage increase are winning issues. With job growth anemic, wages stagnant, and scary diseases dominating the news, voters want to see policy changes that help working families stay healthy and economically secure. Paid sick days and minimum wage increases won big across the country, even in Republican leaning states.

Massachusetts passed a paid sick leave initiative with 60% of the vote, while electing a Republican governor. Two cities in New Jersey also passed paid sick leave. In progressive-leaning Oakland, a minimum wage increase combined with sick leave standards of 9 days for most workers drew over 80% of the vote. South Dakota, Arkansas, Nebraska, and Alaska voters approved minimum wage increases while electing Republicans to statewide office.

No one should be forced to go to work sick or when their child is sick – either by employer policies or family economics. Seattle’s economy is thriving two years after its sick and safe leave ordinance went into effect. Washington’s legislature – both the Democratic-controlled House and the Republican-controlled Senate – should adopt statewide paid sick and safe leave.

Our state has a stronger minimum wage than most, thanks to the ballot initiative passed overwhelmingly by state voters in 1998. But even with annual cost of living adjustments, too many people aren’t able to support themselves and their families. $9.47 an hour just isn’t enough. Let’s bump that up to $12.00.

Second: Voters get that stuff costs money. Our legislature needs to quit being afraid of voter backlash, and pass major new progressive taxes to fund a modern day prekindergarten through college education system.

Look what voters said here in our own state. In Seattle, forced to choose between two early learning initiatives (when many people might have preferred passing both), voters overwhelmingly chose the one that came with a new tax to pay for itself rather than the one without any new tax. Then they opted to tax themselves more for more transit service, too.

Pre-election polling showed voters statewide overwhelmingly favored the initiative to reduce class size, yet it’s barely eking out a win. Perhaps because when they read the details in the voters’ pamphlet, they realized there was no source of funding. Voters get that smaller classes mean more teachers who have to be paid – but that the state needs to spend money on foster kids, higher education, early learning, low-income seniors, mentally ill folks, a healthy environment, transportation, and other public concerns, too.

The legislature will have to pass a new 2-year budget in 2015 that includes funding for all those new teachers, along with other components of an “ample” K-12 education system, without causing further misery by slashing all the other services state residents depend on. That means lots of new revenue will be required. It’s time to get serious about transforming our outmoded and highly regressive tax system and start requiring  the wealthiest state residents and businesses to pay their fair share, too.

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