Morning Fizz

Morning Fizz: Contradictory Emails

Caffeinated News & Gossip featuring emails, data, and taxes.

By Morning Fizz May 6, 2013


Caffeinated News & Gossip

1. In the classic "We like being funded, but we don't like paying for it" category, check out the pair of contradictory emails the Washington State Bar Association sent out about the state budget.

On April 18th, the WSBA sent a letter to its members supporting the Democratic house budget proposal because it funds "core, essential functions"  and "provides funding for badly needed updates" in the judicial branch; the letter criticized the competing Republican senate budget because it would have a "devastating impact" on the judicial branch. 

But on May 1, the WSBA sent out an email to its members opposing the accompanying house revenue package that would actually fund the programs it was so concerned about.

Why? Because the house revenue package makes the temporary 0.3 percent business and occupation tax surcharge on professional services (including attorneys) permanent.

The email says:

We oppose a permanent increase in the B&O surcharge.
Even the temporary surcharge, which increased the tax from 1.5% to 1.8%, has been a burden to many of our members, perhaps especially the solo practitioners and small firms that are struggling in this economy.   
We urge you to contact your legislators and express your opinion about the proposal in ESHB 2038 to make permanent the temporary B&O surcharge on professional services. 

Fizz brings this to your attention not to simply to engage in everybody's favorite pastime (lawyer bashing), but rather as an example of the fundamental problem with trying to pass any budget: Everybody wants a budget that protects them, but nobody wants to pay for it.

"Washington ranks 36th in the nation in the overall obligation of state and local taxes, at 9.3% of personal income, the lowest levels in decades."


2. Speaking of wanting it both ways on taxes: House finance chair Rep. Reuven Carlyle (D-36, Queen Anne), with the help of the state Office of Financial Management, has released data on which Washington State counties are net recipients of state tax dollars and which are net contributors.

Similar to his earlier findings, Carlyle reports that only a handful of very blue counties such as King County and San Juan County pay far more into the collective piggy bank than they get in return. King County gets about 65 cents back on every dollar (slightly better than the 59 cents on the dollar King County got based on 2007 data) while rural, Republican counties such as Ferry, Stevens, and Yakima get big returns, up to $2 back for every dollar they put in.

"Perhaps it could engender a bit more gracious rhetoric from those who play into inaccurate and counterproductive negative stereotypes about rural communities subsidizing city life."

Additionally, Carlyle adds some context—another reality check for the anti-tax pathology that seems to grip Washington State's 30 (out of 39) counties who pay less in taxes than they receive in services: "Washington ranks 36th in the nation in the overall obligation of state and local taxes, at 9.3% of personal income, the lowest levels in decades."

Carlyle sums up:

The people of my own 36th Legislative District and the City of Seattle are net contributors of taxes in every single category of public spending, and yet our busses are full and our schools lack infrastructure. Does that make us better than others or merely fools? Absolutely no to both, but it is insulting and patronizing that legislators from other areas make it next to impossible for us to at least have the freedom to vote–through our local elected officials or even directly–on additional local option taxes that are important to our community.

Being a ‘net contributor’ county should merely gain us sufficient respect, courtesy or deference to local democracy as to be able to allow our own local governments to make independent decisions relative to the services our citizens need that state government cannot or does not provide. And, perhaps, it could engender a bit more gracious rhetoric from those who play into inaccurate and counterproductive negative stereotypes about rural communities subsidizing city life.

No one likes taxes, and no one wants to feel that they are paying disproportionately more than others, but the blind retreat into anti-tax sentiment is forcing a policy direction toward a low tax, low service, low quality of life state. We should have this dialogue in the open so that we understand the profound structural implications of disinvesting in education and other important services statewide. We owe it the people of Washington not just to appeal to the lowest common denominator of politics, but to a higher purpose of our children’s children who will not see the quality of life that we treasure in Washington unless we rethink our direction.

It is philosophically inconsistent or, less generously, hypocritical for some key legislators from counties that are among the highest ‘net recipient’ counties in the state to specifically block efforts for major urban counties to add additional ‘local option’ funding for transit services to meet local needs while those same legislators’ constituents enjoy wildly disproportionate benefit from primarily King, Snohomish and Pierce County taxpayers.

We are better than this as a state and we need to engage in a more thoughtful approach to our state’s future to lift us all up.

3. Former Seattle City Council member and mayoral candidate Peter Steinbrueck held his kickoff party this weekend at the fancy Capitol Hill home of local civil rights activist icon Kay Bullitt (she led the fight to desegregate Seattle schools in the early 70s). 

 Robert Fulghum—the "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten" guy—introduced Steinbrueck to a crowd of about 200; Fulghum was Steinbrueck's teacher in high school (he went to Lakeside). Vendors from Pike Place Market were selling spring produce and flowers.  And Steinbrueck himself raised $17,300,  spokeswoman Kathy Malady says.

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