I am still in Olympia fighting for a common sense budget that meets the present and future needs of a growing state. While I know it can be frustrating to hear legislators still haven’t agreed on a budget, I believe that it is worth the overtime to hold firm on our commitment to funding a sustainable budget that meets the needs of Washington’s children and families.
The latest House budget plan released this week moves us significantly closer to the Senate level. Our plan makes essential investments in our future and puts our state on the path to a more sustainable and fair revenue system with a modest capital gains tax. Now it is time for the Senate Republicans to compromise and meet us in the middle.
A budget is not just numbers, it is a statement of our values, and the differences between the House and Senate budget proposals show that the House Democrats remain committed to education, and to children, families and preserving the safety net.
The main focus in Olympia this session has been on funding K-12 education and mental health in response to recent Supreme Court decisions. Both the House and Senate budgets invest over a billion dollars of new money into K-12; the House budget also funds a $150 million cost-of-living increase for our teachers to make up some of the ground they have lost over the past six years of no COLAs.
Fully funding K-12 education is incredibly important, but we know that kids need to arrive at school ready to learn. The House invests $117 million more than the Senate into early learning to increase their educational success and save millions of dollars in special ed and repeated grades. The House makes greater investments in child welfare and we make sure that struggling families can afford basic essentials like rent and diapers by investing in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.
The recent revenue forecast shows an uptick of revenue for our state. Additionally, we recently learned that more federal resources will be coming in to Washington. Both of these things are great news and show that our economy continues to move in the right direction. But our revenue system is broken. We cannot pass a budget that is sustainable into the future without changing our revenue system. The state continues to get sued for not providing constitutionally mandated services: education, mental health, foster care and others. We aren’t adequately funding our basic state responsibilities because we simply don’t have the revenue.
The House is proposing and I am strongly supportive of a capital gains tax. Washington would not be alone in having a capital gains tax – 41 other states already tax these profits. It would be among the lowest capital gains tax rates in the country, assessing just 5 percent on investment profits exceeding $50,000 for married filers and $25,000 for single filers. Retirement accounts and income from the sale of a primary home are exempt. In fact, it would only impact about 0.4 percent of Washingtonians — that’s around 32,000 of 7 million people. Despite the modest nature of this proposal, the Senate appears completely unwilling to even consider it.
Washington has the most unfair tax system in the nation. You read that right, the most regressive of all 50 states. That means that middle-class and working families pay four to seven times more of their income in taxes than the wealthiest five percent. In addition, over the past 20 years our tax base has eroded very significantly. If you take the combined taxes all Washingtonians pay, our tax rate in this state has dropped from #11 in the nation twenty years ago to #35 today, right behind Mississippi. The proposed capital gains tax starts to address this disparity by taxing only the wealthiest in the state.
The money from the capital gains tax will be invested right back into our education system, funding public schools and making sure that higher education remains affordable.
Meanwhile, the Senate chooses to stick with the status quo – leaving our middle-class and working families to bear the burden while the protecting the wealthy few.
The capital gains tax is just one proposal to increase revenue; the House is open to alternative ways to increase revenue. One option is to close some of our outdated tax loopholes including ones for oil refineries and out-of-state pharmaceutical companies.
One thing is certain. If we do not find a long-term solution for funding the things we value – education, health care, jobs, a just society, a healthy environment, and opportunity for all Washingtonians – we will be back in this same position in just a few short years.