Note: This op-ed appeared in the Cheney Free Press and other central Washington newspapers the week of April 24.
By Sen. Shelly Short
A miracle of sorts took place under the Capitol Dome on April 23. The Washington Legislature adjourned its 2023 legislative session without raising taxes.
I want to point it out, because I’m not sure anyone outside Olympia will notice. There have been a dozen major tax increases in Washington state since the Legislature fell under one-party control in 2018. The biggest ones kicked in this year and are just beginning to bite.
We also saw four big new tax proposals. None of them passed this session, but don’t worry – they’ll be back on the table when we return in 2024.
On my side of the aisle, we understand this is just a temporary respite from a most taxing trend. Under control of a “progressive” Democratic majority in the state Legislature, life in Washington has become more expensive, more cumbersome, and more dictated by a government that seems not-at-all interested in what the people have to say. Taxes are only part of this picture, but they offer a great way to tell the story. It’s not as if we needed the money – our existing taxes were enough to double state spending over the last 10 years. Yet this fixation knows no bounds, and one way or another, people like you and me pay for it.
Let’s start with the income tax. The voters of this state have been saying no to this bad idea for 90 years – 11 times since 1934. Our colleagues finally got fed up with the people’s resistance, passed one anyway, and blocked a public vote. A handpicked state Supreme Court went along with a legal argument scholars and tax experts consider absurd, and poof – the first payments came due April 18. Initially this tax applies to capital gains for wealthy investors, millionaire executives and that ilk – but just watch it grow.
This year also saw the launch of cap-and-trade, or as we like to call it, cap-and-tax. This is a hugely complicated scheme to tax industry and motorists for government programs to reduce carbon emissions. The most tangible result we are likely to see is a slowdown in our economy and higher gas prices — between 35 and 50 cents a gallon so far. Agriculture was supposed to be exempted, but the state failed to implement that part. Anyone wonder why food prices are climbing?
In July, a new payroll tax for long-term care insurance will begin. This program is riddled with problems, including limited benefits, doubts about solvency, and no way out once enrolled.
Then we have the proposals on deck for next year:
Wealth tax – Washington residents worth more than $250 million would pay an annual tax of 1 percent on financial assets worldwide. This is a great way to make the state budget dependent on a handful of wealthy people while giving them an incentive to move elsewhere – and discourage investment in Washington at the same time.
Income tax expansion – This certainly didn’t take long. There’s a proposal to expand our new income tax to highly-paid health care executives, another unpopular target to be sure. What’s important is that this would force another court challenge, and would permit our Supreme Court to make another ruling allowing the Legislature to extend the income tax to all of us.
Taxes on homeownership – In the middle of a housing shortage, we saw proposals this year to make homeownership more expensive – by increasing the real estate excise tax and allowing property taxes to grow at triple their current rate. The retired and elderly are being taxed out of their houses, the young can’t afford them in the first place – and the solution is to make it more expensive to buy and keep a home?
Our friends keep talking about making the rich pay their “fair share,” but this isn’t about fairness, it’s about more-ness. Even when taxes specifically target the rich, the rest of us pay in the form of sluggish growth and lost job opportunities. The middle class always winds up paying.
Washington already has the 13th highest tax burden in the country, according to the state Department of Revenue. It will take different leadership to reverse this trend – one whose sympathies lie with the people.
Sen. Shelly Short, R-Addy, is Senate Republican Floor Leader and represents the 7th Legislative District.