This morning’s Senate budget release, which I watched on TVW, had the expected somber tone. There’s no joy in budget-cutting. The Democratic leaders repeatedly emphasized that this was a “balanced and responsible” budget, written as if it was the last word. No new taxes are planned, although they may revisit that after the public has absorbed the realities of the “all cuts” budget.
Then, this afternoon, Sen. Majority Leader Lisa Brown posted a brief item on her blog that appears to invite consideration of an income tax. Tantalizingly, she calls it “part 1″ and promises more tomorrow. Brown echoes a theme sounded last week by Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, in noting that Washington voters approved an income tax in 1932, during the Great Depression. The Supreme Court struck it down in 1933, a decision that Kline and Brown both note has been criticized by some legal scholars. Brown refers to a brief article by Seattle attorney Hugh Spitzer appended to the 2002 final report of the Washington State Tax Structure Study Committee, chaired by Bill Gates, Sr. The committee, you may remember, recommended the state adopt an income tax. Gates and others recently urged a “high incomes tax.”
A group of citizens is coming together to promote a “high incomes” income tax. It would be offset with an across-the-board cut of the state property tax. The new net revenue would be dedicated to public education.
Kline, calling it a long term revenue reform, echoes the theme in his blog post.
Some recent polls show that a slim majority of folks would support an income tax for folks who earn over $250,000 per year. My preference would be institute an income tax for individuals who make over $100,000 per year or for couples (either married or in a domestic partnership arrangement) whose combined income is over $200,000 per year.
This all strikes me as one of the more perverse manifestations of the emerging populist insurrection fueled by legitimate resentment of the greedy manipulations of a handful of Wall Street profiteers. Promising to give tax relief to most folks by taxing the “rich” to pay for popular programs may sound good initially. But it’s the kind of thing that both destabilizes the tax system (even the Gates commission favored a flat tax) and drives investment out of state.
Still, it might be a conversation worth having, just to put it to rest again.