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More cuts won’t work; revenue options are needed now


For the past two legislative sessions we have seen all-cuts budgets. Over the last three sessions $10 billion of cuts have been made. As we head into the special session on November 28, the state is deeper in debt (to the tune of more than $2 billion), unemployment still hovers over 9%, our classrooms are overcrowded, our most vulnerable citizens have lost services, small businesses are suffering, Boeing probably still isn’t paying federal taxes, and we’ve got Occupy groups in cities and towns from Aberdeen to Moses Lake, Bellingham to Vancouver, Seattle to Richland; across the state the populace is demanding change.

Something isn’t working. Deep cuts, continued tax exemptions, no new revenue… clearly, these policy decisions aren’t actually doing anything to spur the economy. As we head into the special session, any legislator who is talking about following the same, old “no-new revenue, let’s cut our way out of this deficit” is using the same tools that haven’t worked so far. What’s different? Why would they work now?

But there is talk of new revenue in Olympia. Unfortunately, because Tim Eyman’s Initiative 1053 requires a two-thirds majority in the legislature to raise revenue, making it nearly impossible for the legislature to solve our revenue/budget crisis, our elected representatives and senators will need to put a revenue package on the ballot for a citizen vote in order to raise money to protect our basic and essential services.

We urge them to do so. The sooner the better because while they dither, cuts will be made and the hole we’re in will deepen. But there are better and worse ways to raise revenue for the state. The best ways are those that not only fill budget holes, but also stimulate the economy by creating jobs. When people don’t have jobs, when their wages stagnate, when they are worried about losing their jobs, they don’t spend money in their communities. They cut back, eat out less, vacation less, spend less money at their local restaurants, retailers, garden shops. And stuff doesn’t get done. Our schools, public health clinics, roads, bridges—our infrastructure falls into disrepair.

Revenue options that increase jobs are possible and smart. For example, our legislators could put a state general obligation bond on the ballot. The bond could be specifically for building infrastructure – improving our schools, public buildings, roads. This not only would put people back to work, with 20% of our retail sales tax coming from the construction industry, we could actually help grow the economy when we most need it.

Billions of dollars in tax giveaways in our state means billions of dollars that aren’t available to meet the needs of Washington residents. Last year, over $4.5 billion a year in cuts were made to education, health care, human services and other programs. People were hurt. Yet, only two tax breaks were ended, bringing in about $10 million each per year. Most (82%) of tax breaks don’t have language that sunsets them over time.

Worse yet, tax expenditures (loopholes) are not even considered part of the budget yet they are revenues that the state chooses not to collect and therefore ought to be part of budget decisions. Exposing tax giveaways, sunsetting those that don’t actually result in the creation of jobs, evaluating the actual benefit of those dollars to the state, and eliminating wasteful exemptions would restore that money to the state for rebuilding our economy.

The movement of the 99% has shown us that people in Washington hunger for our elected representatives to show moral leadership and courage in dealing with our budget crisis.

Working people, the vast numbers of unemployed, our most vulnerable, disabled, mentally ill, our state’s children, our young women and men who worked and studied hard only now to find the American dream out of reach, those who were born here and those who came here looking for a better life, small businesses struggling to survive… we all need solutions that will enrich our lives here in Washington, not further degrade them. More cuts won’t work. We can, and we must see solutions that create jobs and build the economy. For all of us.

Lynne Dodson is Secretary-Treasurer of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, the largest labor organization in the Evergreen State, representing the interests of more than 500 local unions and 400,000 rank-and-file union members.

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