Editorial: “overall strength of Washington’s economy is providing ample tax dollars to balance the state budget and more.”

Although the governor and some legislators seek tax increases this session, they have yet to make a compelling case for them, writes The Seattle Times editorial board. The editorial makes the point, one which we’ve made repeatedly, that the state budget balances without new taxes.

Early fears of a pandemic budget catastrophe faded. Washington can easily cover this year’s temporary dip with its $1.7 billion rainy day fund.

In the 2021-2023 biennium, current taxes are expected to generate enough to cover current spending programs and anticipated cost increases, with around $1 billion left over, Inslee’s Office of Financial Management confirmed…

Pain endures for many households, and recovery is uncertain for most employers. Yet the overall strength of Washington’s economy is providing ample tax dollars to balance the state budget and more.

Moreover,

Because the state will have more to spend, tax-increase proponents suggest a false choice between either raising taxes or cutting services to the needy.

The editorial makes a strong case for avoiding tax and fee increases, noting that employers already face a significant tax risk.

Yet employers must pay billions more to the state even without tax increases.

That’s because unemployment insurance rates are soaring. Yes, the state lost several hundred million dollars to fraud, but rates are leaping because $13 billion in benefits were paid as unemployment surged last year. Inslee’s budget offers some mitigation that legislators should advance.

The editorial also notes that lawmakers have already put together a tax reform task force and questions the need to raise taxes before the reform effort is concluded. Fair point. Further, the Washington Research Council reminds lawmakers that the current tax structure has worked well through the pandemic.

The Legislature is right to consider how changes to our tax structure would impact Washington’s competitiveness. Measures of competitiveness are subjective, and better tax structures aren’t the only important factor. (Indeed, a couple of local measures of competitiveness are the Washington Roundtable’s Benchmarks for a Better Washington and Opportunity Washington’s Scorecard. Both include tax burden as one of many metrics.)

But our current tax structure has enabled a strong economy and substantial state revenues—that should not be cast aside lightly.

Right.