As we enter the New Year, footage of COVID- 19 vaccines coming into hospitals across Washington State gives me hope that the horrors of COVID- 19 will be behind us soon. What is less clear is when the economic devastation will be resolved. During our new legislative session our state leaders face a significant choice.
They can make cuts as they did in 2008 to programs essential workers and their families depend on the most, or they can find new revenue by taxing corporations and the uber wealthy that have continued making record profits throughout 2020.
As a Black and Latinx person born and raised in Washington state I know something about the workers in this state. I have lived on both sides of the mountains. I have family who continue to work in warehouses to supply everyday things to people throughout the pandemic. I have worked with nurses who were the first to treat people as the pandemic materialized in Washington State.
Because of this, to me it is clear that it was not the billionaires or the corporations who saved us in 2020. Instead, it was everyday people – grocery clerks, delivery drivers, caregivers, healthcare providers – who became the most valuable players in Washington State by doing their part as essential workers. That is why, when politicians posture to make cuts to programs essential workers need most, I have to ask myself what sort of system would further punish everyday people when there are people and corporations who have made record profits and have not yet paid their fair share?
The facts are that Washington State has the most regressive tax structure in the country. That means if you are low income you are taxed at close to 20% of your income while middle-class workers pay close to 10% of their income and the wealthiest in our state only pay about 3% of their income. If this seems upside down to you it’s because that our tax code is upside down. During the pandemic, when the lowest income people in our state have literally risked their lives for our economy to work, it is not a system I have been proud to be a part of.
In 2008, Washington chose to cut over $20 billion in spending while California, when faced with the same options, chose to tax the wealthy. The result made all the difference. Afterward, California experienced a 2.5% economic growth per year while states like Washington that chose to cut spending shrunk by 2.5% per year.
In 2021 we have the same choice facing us. Only this time, I hope we will have learned from our past to make a better future for our state’s residents.
All of this is why earlier this year I became a founding board member of Invest in Washington Now. Invest in Washington Now is a 501c4 focused on changing the way our communities think about progressive revenue today so we can get the relief communities need tomorrow.
The core of what groups like Invest in Washington want is progressive revenue. Changing our tax system so that those who have the most, help the most, is the central idea behind progressive revenue.
Progressive revenue is a values first based tax system grounded in the taxpayer’s ability to pitch in. It ensures our state produces the monies we need to continue serving our communities while also allowing everyone in the state the ability to have what they need to not just survive in a pandemic but thrive. Progressive revenue is what we need to help us flip our tax code right side up so the economy in Washington state can work for all of us.
However, the question looming in 2021 is will our politicians hear us? Recently, the governor released his budget and it included a modest capital gains tax on stock sales and other progressive revenue options. It’s a great start and there are many other examples of progressive revenue that are worth looking into and have helped other states survive, and thrive, during past recessions. A few examples include, estate taxes on huge inheritances, increasing tax rates on luxury real estate deals, payroll taxes on multi-million-dollar salaries and bonuses, and taxing multi-million-dollar rental income. All of these options do not include harming our essential workforce and can give us the revenue we need for every community in Washington to thrive.
If 2020 was our boiling point, 2021 can be our turning point but only if enough people take action to make sure our legislative branch also hears us.
Take your first action by signing this petition addressed to our state lawmakers so they can understand how much we care about this issue and join nearly 10,000 others who agree.
Invest in WA will alert you when it’s time to support key legislation for progressive revenue. Be ready to call your representatives in Olympia in order to make change happen this year- even from the safety of our own homes.
Our healthcare professionals, education workers, and all other essential workers have done enough this year to make this economy run. It’s time for the uber wealthy and corporations who have made record profits during the pandemic to do their fair share so we all keep our communities afloat.
To the rest of the country Washington is a proud beacon for progressive values and doing the right thing but to continue making our state great we must invest in our community. Join me. It is time to invest in Washington Now.
Joan Jones is the current Executive Director at SEIU Washington, an Atlantic Fellow for Social and Economic Equity at the London School of Economics International Inequalities Institute and a founding board member of Invest In Washington.