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As state shutdown looms… sounds of silence from Olympia


(June 17, 2015) — A spectre haunts Olympia, the silent spectre of politicians and their overlords grappling to deal with a world that’s changing before their eyes.

A couple of weeks ago, the white smoke emerged from the governor’s office, signaling that the cabal of budget negotiators had come to an understanding on the size of the budget box and all that was left was to fill in the various line items. Everyone expected the House Democrats to cave on their last progressive tax proposal (capital gains) and the Senate Republicans to let some loophole closures outweigh their new business tax breaks by at least enough to balance a meet-in-the-middle budget.

But then the Republican leaders took the deal back to their caucus, where apparently all the crazy hasn’t been tamped down yet. Their colleagues told them to turn right around and go remind David Schumacher and the rest of the world that they still have a two-vote majority in the smaller of the legislative chambers, so they expect to get every damn thing they want. There will be no loophole left behind.

Capitol-please-stand-bySince then, it’s been radio silence.

That silence has echoed the larger silence that has grown louder every day: the silence of the corporate community on the issue of taxes and revenue. There have been no one-day walkouts from the executive suites. Groups like the Washington Roundtable and the AWB have remained mum with the confidence that real power is always heard, even when it doesn’t speak.

As we’ve pointed out before at the United Faculty of Washington State blog, Washington is exactly the bipartisan and bipolar state that these folks built. The Redmond, Bellevue, and Seattle swells can cloak themselves in the progressive garb of gay marriage, legal weed, background checks, and the Dream Act while at the same time riding herd on an increasingly regressive society of haves and have-nots.

For a long time now in Olympia, the schizo business agenda has been invest in education and transportation, but don’t raise any revenue to pay for those investments. The financier-driven policies of accumulation and privatization have stretched the middle class and the public infrastructure that the upper crust depends on for social stability — and the rest of us just depend on — to the breaking point. The cracks are getting so big that the defenders of the status quo are starting to look and sound like those rich people in California who feel it’s wildly unfair to ask them to turn off their fountains and stop watering their putting greens while the rest of the state bakes.

Meanwhile, the roar against the silence of the privileged is getting louder and louder. Forty thousand teachers have walked out. (And for those of you still clinging to the idea that this was the work of union bosses, not teachers, enough already. Half the teachers in the state don’t walk out because a Svengali union leader told them to, they walk out because they’re fed up and disgusted.) Poll after poll shows that big majorities of voters support those teachers. More polls show that voters support a modest capital gains tax, both for the revenue and the fairness.

And now even The Seattle Times says it’s a good idea. As our friend Goldy over at Horses Ass pointed out, “It’s pretty stunning to see” such a heretofore anti-tax editorial board “state their support for the tax so bluntly.”  And it’s hard to imagine that they would be stating it so bluntly if at least some of the silent business elites weren’t tacitly giving them the OK.

So here’s hoping that the Republican refusal to compromise has stiffened the Democrats’ spines and made them also less willing to compromise. From the day they introduced their tax package, the House Democrats have steadfastly claimed they have the votes to pass it. So maybe it’s time they just went ahead and did that, made a few headlines of their own, and brought the state tax code just a little bit closer to its inevitable leap into the 21st century.

lyne-billHell, most people usually blame Republicans for government shutdowns anyway.

Bill Lyne is an English professor at Western Washington University and the president of the United Faculty of Washington State. This column originally appeared at the UFWS blog and is crossposted here with the author’s permission.

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