In 2012, the Washington State Supreme Court, in their McCleary vs State case, ruled that the State government was not fulfilling its constitutional duty to “amply provide for the education of students in Washington State”.
The legislature was ordered to develop a plan – a roadmap - of how they were going to fundamentally change the financing of schools. A primary issue is the frequent inability of school districts to hire staff at the modest salaries provided by state funding. School districts, especially urban districts in the Puget Sound corridor must supplement these comparatively high salary demands with local levy funding.
Clearly, the huge amounts of money required to satisfy the ruling can’t be collected by raising gas taxes, cigarette taxes, the Lotto, or the usual “low hanging fruit” that legislators utilize. They need billions. Unsurprisingly, this was the source of much debate in Olympia. Legislators weren’t able to make a plan during the regular session, or the first, second or even third special sessions. These special sessions, costing taxpayers $440,000 collectively, were fruitless. So the Supreme Court ordered fines of $100,000 daily to encourage them to get their act together.
Lawmakers are apparently not particularly motivated by these fines. Sen Hargrove and Representatives Tharinger and VanDeWege were all quoted by the Peninsula Daily News that they doubt another special session would be productive.
Besides… fine who, exactly? Who is bearing the brunt of these fines? Since 70% of the state budget (other than education) is mandated or constrained in some way, the only two places they could take that money from are:
- Social Services
Wanna bet who draws the short straw? This incapacity of the legislature to do their jobs is going to cost people with disabilities, the mentally ill, children and the poor millions.
So legislators are considering a capital gains tax or a complex property tax reallocation scheme to pay the shortfall. They’re dancing around the main issue - which should be met head-on; the citizens of this state need an income tax – not a patchwork of easy to implement taxes on the poorest and most vulnerable.
The taxation system in Washington State is broken. Busted. Derelict. Defunct. “Pining for the Fjords”. The institute on taxation and economic policy ranks ours as the most regressive tax system in the United States. The very worst. People who earn less than $21,000 annually pay nearly 17% of their income in state taxes. People who earn more than $103,000 pay about 6.6%. On average, the top 1% (over $500,000 per year) pay only 2.4% of their income in state taxes. Catch that? The poorest Washingtonians pay nearly 700% higher state and local tax rates than the richest.
The inability of the poorest to afford any more taxes is resulting in cutting services to them.