The go-slow approach to fixing Washington State's tax system

A letter to a Democratic activist who called for a go-slow approach to eliminating tax preferences. (For background, see Failed KCDCC Resolution a Good Idea and Fair School Funding Coalition.)

Thank you for your well-written and thoughtful analysis.  I admire your commitment to the cause of justness and fairness.  The real “enemy” is conservatives, not fellow progressive Democrats.

You may even be correct that the best approach, legislatively, is a slow, incremental one –  chipping away at tax preferences one by one.   Trying immediately to legislate away the exemptions of Boeing and Microsoft may be inviting disaster or ridicule.

But the important point I want to make is this. Fine, maybe the legislators shouldn’t start by taking on Boeing and Microsoft.  But we grassroots Democrats need to push our political leaders, and the public dialog, to the Left.

After all, it’s just a resolution, and we, as members of the resolutions committee, have no legislative power.  Our legislators and governor largely ignore our platform and resolutions already.   Our job, as grassroots Dems, is to push the envelope — to extend what’s possible.

You see, the problem is that there are very few audible voices calling for the elimination of tax exemptions. The governor and legislators are waiting for others (advocacy groups, the grassroots) to lead. Our leaders don’t lead.

Perhaps the role of groups like the King County P&R Committee should be to start stating the truth: the emperor has no clothes. It’s outrageous that the super-rich get bailouts, subsidies, and tax breaks; they ship jobs and profits overseas.  Meanwhile, the middle class and the poor are getting layoffs, service cuts, and foreclosures.

Republicans always justify tax cuts by calling taxation a “job killer.”  If we let them win that argument, we’ll lose the war.  The political dialog has moved so far to the right in recent years, that Democrats can’t state their truths without being shouted down.  The Right controls the terms of debate and we can barely be heard.

Moreover, as you and others have pointed out, taxes don’t in fact kill jobs. (Anyone have any good documentation of this factoid?)

Boeing prospers off government funding, as a weapons manufacturer. Won’t they support education? Microsoft and Amazon should be even more eager to fund education. Actually, they hire thousands of Asian software engineers on H1-B visas. Entire teams are often foreigners. Could Microsoft have gotten where it is without government services and protections? Government is like the operating system of a nation.

Democrats and progressives need to stop being meek about their values.

Yet I agree that the resolution could and should be amended.  Explicit mention of Boeing and Microsoft should be removed.  (In fact David Spring has done so in a recent revision.)  Already it, reasonably, calls for just a temporary, one-year suspension of the tax breaks.  It could be weakened further to call for, say, a partial elimination of the tax exemptions.  The factual claims can be checked out and corrected, if necessary.  They’re not too far off.   With such changes, it would be a reminder that tax breaks for rich corporations and people are unfair given the inequality of wealth and the cuts we’re facing.

In an ideal world, David’s resolution would be acceptable.  It is, in fact, reasonable.

So, in short, yes, I agree, the legislators may need to go slow with regard to attacking Boeing and Microsoft’s tax preferences; on the issues of taxation in general and the unconstitutionality of I-1053, they should go fast.  But we aren’t legislators. We’re the grassroots. We need to push the envelope to the Left.

The go-slow approach is likely to take too long to succeed.  The Left needs to raise the public’s awareness about the injustice of unfair taxation. Wisconsin and Republican over-reach can help.  Apparently, our legislators and governor won’t.

Leave a Reply