At a special hearing in Olympia representing Washington residents from all 49 legislative districts on May 4, 2015 the voices were loud and clear about the need for tax reform.
Washington State for a number of years has earned the unfortunate distinction of being the most regressive state in the country in terms of state and local taxes. The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy noted that the poorest 20% in Washington State paid 16.8% of their income in state and local taxes while the richest 1% paid only 2.4%.
Senator Sharon Nelson concisely stated the reason why reform was needed:
“Washington’s outdated and unfair tax structure is in dire need of a makeover,” said Senate Democratic Leader Sharon Nelson, one of more than a dozen Democratic lawmakers who were in attendance for Monday’s hearing. “It is unconscionable to continue to prop up a system that asks more and more from people who are barely getting by, while at the same time giving away millions in tax breaks and asking for very little from the super wealthy. We’re not trying to punish anyone, but it’s not unreasonable to ask those who have been very financially successful to pay their fair share.
“We are all in this together and it’s time we had a tax structure that reflects that.”
Unfortunately for most of the last 20 years Washington State was operating under legislation passed by voters that in 2013 was ruled unconstitutional by the Washington State Supreme Court – namely the requirement started under Initiative 601 and continued by initiatives put on the ballot by Tim Eyman and approved by voters that any legislation to raise revenue or repeal tax exemptions required a 2/3 vote of both houses of the Legislature.
Under these initiatives unfortunately any tax reform that happened, even a revenue neutral one to make our taxes less regressive, required a 2/3 vote because any tax “increase” required a 2/3 vote even if overall the change was revenue neutral.
Unfortunately the Republicans took over the Senate in Washington State in 2013 and they have continued to oppose efforts to raise revenue or institute tax reform to change Washington State’s regressive tax system.
For change to occur Democrats supporting tax reform will have to take back the Senate and elect enough Representatives who support reform to make it happen in the house. They will also have to re-elect Democratic Governor Jay Inslee as a Republican Governor would more than likely veto any tax increase that increased taxes, such as on the rich