State legislators face moral budget choices ahead | Ryan Ryals

I’ve tried not to pick on our state legislators too much, since they have an incredibly difficult job to do right now. Faced with a $5 billion hole in the budget, we’ve declined their offers to help pay for it. We rejected their attempts to tax our Twix bars and Fiji water and even tied their hands by requiring them to get a two-thirds majority to pass any new taxes or fees. No new fees, no new taxes and revenues are falling. I think voters should make it easier for the legislators and just vote for Libertarian and Tea Party candidates. They’ll be happy to cut the budget using a rusty machete and with little regard for the consequences.

I’ve tried not to pick on our state legislators too much, since they have an incredibly difficult job to do right now. Faced with a $5 billion hole in the budget, we’ve declined their offers to help pay for it. We rejected their attempts to tax our Twix bars and Fiji water and even tied their hands by requiring them to get a two-thirds majority to pass any new taxes or fees.

No new fees, no new taxes and revenues are falling. I think voters should make it easier for the legislators and just vote for Libertarian and Tea Party candidates. They’ll be happy to cut the budget using a rusty machete and with little regard for the consequences.

I can’t understand why we continue to send Democrats to Olympia who generally favor social service programs, but then we tell them, “don’t tax me, and don’t cut the programs I like.” Maybe we just like torturing progressive politicians for sport.

Despite the handicaps, House Democrats managed to find $4.4 billion to cut this week, mostly on the backs of state workers and retirees, college students, grade-school children, teacher salaries, health care for poor people, disabled workers and developmentally disabled people.

Guess who didn’t get any of their benefits cut? People like me who can afford it.

If you think that we shouldn’t be collecting taxes and paying for these types of services, I’d like you to try telling that to people whose sole lifeline is a handout from the government. And I mean tell them in person not in an anonymous post online.

Something like, “I’m sorry that you can’t pay your bills due to a brain injury you suffered on the job, but you should have made better life choices” or “That’s too bad about your sick child, and I don’t care that the medical bills will wipe out your finances and push you into bankruptcy. I want the leather package on this new car.”

I think even the most hardened libertarians would not be able to say that to someone’s face. It’s easier to launch a missile than to shoot someone in the face, and it’s easier to cut someone’s lifeline on a mail-in ballot than to steal it from them directly.

We can’t shield everyone from life’s struggles and we can’t fund every good idea, but, we shouldn’t tolerate a government that ignores its most vulnerable members. Our state legislators have done a good job so far of protecting them, but we’re sliding toward massive wealth inequality that threatens them as well.

For the very rich trying to acquire massive amounts of money while also paying even less in taxes isn’t a good long-term strategy. You can say, “I earned this money, I should get to keep it all.” However, you didn’t earn that money in a vacuum. You earned that money based on other peoples’ ability to pay for your company’s goods or services. It’s the economy, stupid. You don’t exist in your own personal economy; we’re all dependent on the same one.

The danger in pursuing this strategy will come in the form of a popular backlash. In the 1920’s, the top income tax rate was slowly cut from 73 percent down to 24 percent. After the Great Depression hit, the top income tax rate was quickly hiked up to 63 percent and stayed mostly in 70 percent range until Ronald Reagan came into office. Not coincidentally, income inequality has risen steadily since the early 1980’s.

If you have lots of money, you might selfishly go along with the trendy hatred of wealth redistribution, but that redistribution is one of the few things keeping the pitchforks and torches away from your door. Even if violent protests never become part of the fight, poor and unemployed voters will wake up from their slumber and demand 70 percent income tax rates again.

Is there an imminent danger of a popular revolution? Not for a while. There is still a lot of wealth out there among the people, and it will take time for them to lose it.

But growing inequalities and high unemployment among educated people will fuel dissent and anger. However, I think it’s more likely that we’ll have a socialist voting backlash in the next 10 years than an Egyptian-style government overthrow.

I don’t think we should simply increase taxes on people like me or the very rich and be done with it. Good government isn’t that simple. But expecting the poor and vulnerable to continue absorbing our budget problems is not sustainable nor is it the right moral choice.

 


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Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He is a former president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and lives in Vancouver. Contact thebrunells@msn.com.
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