The editorial board of The Columbian writes in favor of a state budget that does not rely on new or increased taxes.
As legislators begin hammering out a state operating budget for the 2019-21 biennium, Sen. John Braun is making a plea for no tax increases.
For Braun, R-Centralia, a plea essentially is the extent of his power. He is the ranking Republican on the Senate Ways and Means Committee, which plays a big role in writing the budget, but with Democrats holding control of both legislative chambers, his influence is limited. That led him to make his case before The Columbian’s Editorial Board last week.
“We’re in great shape,” Braun said of the state’s finances. “We don’t need more taxes.”
Rather than being viewed as a partisan position, Braun’s view should be considered a fiscally responsible one.
The total package for the House operating budget proposal is about $2 billion more than the projected tax revenue legislators were told to expect last week by the state economic council. To cover that difference, they are proposing a 9.9 percent tax on capital gains above $100,000 per year for an individual, or $200,000 a year for a couple. House Finance Committee Chairwoman Gael Tarleton said that would affect an estimated 13,401 people, or four-tenths of 1 percent of state residents.
The capital gains tax has a different structure than one proposed by Inslee, but House Democrats use the same argument, that the state’s current tax system is regressive because it relies too heavily on sales and property taxes, which take a larger percentage of earnings from lower- and middle-income residents than the wealthy.
But it’s controversial, with critics saying a capital gains tax is really just an income tax, which voters have rejected and the Supreme Court has limited without voter approval. Because of expected legal challenges, Tarleton said the budget doesn’t include money from the capital gains tax until July 1, 2020, the start of the second year of the biennial budget cycle.
There are other “off budget” tax increases on the table this session. We’re referring to plans to allow for higher school property taxes. The Columbian editorial says,
After threatened teacher strikes last summer, many districts reached agreements to provide teachers with significant raises. Now, districts are projecting budget shortfalls in coming years. The Evergreen district is bracing for a deficit as high as $18 million; Vancouver is projecting a $14.3 million shortfall.
Democrats are likely to seek a lift of the levy lid in order for districts to raise more money. “Are there deficits?” Braun said in his meeting with the Editorial Board. “Yes, but I think that has more to do with the bargaining situation we went through last summer. … Certainly the superintendents and school boards have some blame there.”
That echoes a warning The Columbian issued editorially last year: “Don’t bargain away money you don’t have.”
The Seattle Times editorial board also objects to the proposed levy lift..
Senate Democrats are resurrecting a proposal that would allow school districts to ask voters to dramatically increase local property taxes to close funding gaps for local schools. This approach is anathema to the Supreme Court’s 2012 McCleary ruling that the state’s school funding system was unconstitutional: A key point was that the state is over-reliant on local dollars to fund public schools.
Washington should not return to a system where the quality of education is determined by a family’s ZIP code
There will be much more unfolding in the coming days and weeks. Taxpayers will want to watch closely. And weigh in when possible.