Recently, a great deal of print has been committed to tracking those legislators who have or have not volunteered a 3 percent reduction of their legislative salary. It’s certainly a sensational story, and we are easily captivated by the media circus swirling around our political leaders.
Taking the additional 3 percent cut is important to me in the spirit of shared sacrifice and in solidarity with my fellow public employees. What has not been easy to accept is the fact that the sacrifice of public employees did not alleviate cuts to our K-12 schools; they were cut by $1.0 billion for the next biennium. The shared sacrifice did not help higher education as it was cut by nearly $500 million. Nor did the sacrifice insulate the disabled, those with long-term care needs, victims of sexual assault, law enforcement, or the thousands of core services provided for in our State budget.
I can only find one major expense to our State Budget that was spared a cut – corporate tax breaks. It pains me to know that dedicated state employees, teachers, and others have made direct sacrifices of their personal income during a time of enormous financial stress to ensure that our State did not take a single penny out of the pockets of some of the most powerful and successful corporations operating in our State.
Let me be clear that I have agreed to take this 3 percent cut. I will keep making the necessary sacrifices, but let us not crucify those members who cannot afford it. They are not granted additional temporary leave as a counterbalance to the salary reduction. For some they are single parents, some are caring for an ailing spouse or parent, and in some cases they themselves are unemployed outside of their legislative duties, but need to work. We can’t demand that our legislators reflect our own sentiments and values without accepting that they will have the same concerns about their own families and their own financial security.
All of this holds value in its symbolism and it certainly inflames some readers, and after all, news isn’t really news unless it sells papers and adds to the bottom line.
So allow me to mention another budgeting idea: As one of several for-profit newspapers reaping the benefits of a $32 million industry-wide tax exemption biennially, perhaps the newspaper industry could write a check to the State General Fund equal to 3 percent of their tax break, which could be used to restore a fraction of those Basic Health or classroom cuts in Washington.
If we are to truly believe you value fiscal austerity in these tough times, then why not also question on a weekly basis a tax exemption given to the McClatchy group (parent of the Daily Olympian, ticker symbol MNI), an out-of-state corporation with a total enterprise value of $1.7 billion that has seen its share price grow more than 330 percent over the past two years?
A salary cut is symbolically important to be sure, but not a viable answer to our budget woes. The state tax exemption your corporation and other newspapers in Washington enjoy is worth $32 million biennially. That is 85 times more than the money saved by a 3 percent cut in all legislators’ salaries (estimated at $190,000 or 0.00122 percent of the Near General Fund budget).
Taken a step further, if we could recoup just 3 percent of all the tax preferences under the direct control of the Legislature (not those subject to federal commerce restrictions and other constitutional limitations), we would add $360 million biennially to the State budget. Our kids, our college students, our elderly, our most vulnerable, our environment, and most of our small businesses would all be a little better off with that sacrifice.
How about lowering newspaper prices by 3%? How about lowering ad rates by 3% to help our struggling businesses? I would suggest that we would all be better off if the $32 million tax break enjoyed by the state’s newspapers were put back into the depleted and underpaid corps of reporters. Perhaps then we would reap the benefits of some deep investigative reporting that truly sheds light on income inequality, environmental destruction, corporate tax preferences, or worse. We truly have problems to solve, but without a press corps focused on the biggest issues, the media circus will surely entertain us while it most certainly fails to inform us.
Time is running out. It’s time for a real discussion about our state’s revenue crisis, including tax preferences to corporations that do not need them. I hope the McClatchy Company will show a greater sense of corporate – and social – responsibility.
State Representative, 22nd Legislative District