In the strange bedfellows department, Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat has become the new head cheerleader for the Washington state legislature’s Republicans. On Wednesday he declared them winners of a legislative session that hasn’t ended yet. He’s very impressed with their having “tamped down the crazy” by refraining from gay bashing and assaults on reproductive rights and only “one outburst of climate denialism” and just a single flirtation “with a gun-nut rally.”
He also really liked the Republican press conference on Tuesday. And what was not to like, what with the bravura performances of such classics as “We Have to Live Within Our Means Just Like Barney and Betty at the Breakfast Table,” “Remember the Bad Old Days Beforethe Recession When Democrats Spent Like Drunken Sailors,” and, our favorite here at the blog, “A Capital Gains Tax is Really an
Income Tax and a Gateway Drug to More Income Tax.” (And this sort of semantic scare tactic is really the last refuge of scoundrels. Sure, a capital gains tax is a tax on income that rich people’s money makes while they sleep—wake up in the morning, fire up the computer while you’re making coffee, click on your portfolio bookmark and bang, another hundred grand. So go ahead, call it an income tax, call it a fire hydrant if you want, it’s still a tax that would not make even the slightest dent on the lifestyle of the 32,000 people who would pay it.)
Westneat is particularly fond of the way that the four Republicans looked like Mr. Bumble telling Oliver Twist to go screw himself and how Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler “sniffed” that the House Democrats “have to show us a need for new revenue, and they have not.” For Westneat, this pithy platitude is game, set, and match, since the feckless Democrats haven’t “made a coherent case” for new revenue.
It’s easy to see how he could feel this way, given the House Democrats’ press conference on Monday. Representatives Pat Sullivan, Ross Hunter, and Reuven Carlyle made no attempt to look like minor characters out of a Dickens novel and instead of tossing around empty sound bites, they made the whole thing a snoozefest by talking about actual policy and the specifics of their budget proposal. Representative Hunter, for example, when making the case for new revenue, said that the House budget doesn’t push the bulk of McCleary to the next biennium the way that the Senate budget does. He also pointed out that the House budget gives teachers a modest wage increase, funds early learning, and doesn’t fund the health care exchange on poor peoples’ backs the way that the Senate budget does. He also said that the House budget meets the federal court order to stop letting mentally ill people rot in jail for more than seven days, doesn’t cut local government the way the Senate budget does and doesn’t steal from the Public Works Trust Fund (clean water and all that) the way that the Senate budget does.
With this sort of tedious talk going on, no doubt Westneat had fallen asleep when Representative Hunter turned to Westneat’s favorite Republican topic, higher education. On this subject, he’s convinced that “the Republicans blew the Democrats out of the water. The GOP,” he tells us, “is proposing to slash tuition but at the same time send tens of millions of dollars to the universities to make up the difference.” Representative Hunter said the same thing about this that we here at the blog tried to say to Westneat the last time he slobbered over the Republican tuition proposal: It’s not true. The Republicans say they provide enough money to cover the tuition cut, but the cold, hard numbers in their budget say they do not. Go read it, Danny. Better yet, call the university budget offices and see what they say. The Republican rhetoric on tuition sounds great, but the gap between that rhetoric and the reality of their budget would leave lots of students actually paying more in tuition because it would take them longer to get their degrees.
The Democrats’ press conference picked up a bit when Representative Carlyle (who, we’re sure, if he put his mind to it and maybe took a few singing lessons, could easily land a role in a community theatre production of Oliver) started to talk about the capital gains tax. For about the thousandth time this year, he pointed out that, by all accounts, Washington has the most regressive and unfair tax system in the country. A capital gains tax, with the lowest rate and the highest exemptions in the country, would make a modest dent in that unfairness. That alone should be the tax case that Westneat is looking for.
When he says that we’re about to get “a red budget in a blue state,” he implies that this is somehow an anomaly in Washington. But actually it’s business as usual. The most regressive tax system in the country didn’t just happen, it is the result of long and consistent work by both Republicans and Democrats. The illusion of battle between the two parties covers up the fact that they have collaborated to give us exactly the state that the business plutocrats who really run the place want. We have legal dope, we have gay marriage, we have gun control, and . . . we have a state where we regularly set records for corporate tax breaks and poor people pay four times the percentage of their income in taxes that rich people do. It’s the perfect Boeing/Microsoft/Starbucks/Amazon/Expedia state.
The problem is, it hasn’t worked. Our idyllic corporate arrangements are sagging to the breaking point under the weight of the social and economic costs. Our infrastructure is crumbling, inequality and poverty are increasing, and economic racism has created an almost apartheid-like state. Things are so bad that finally the Democrats who heretofore could only address the need for more revenue by trying to slap another penny on the regressive sales tax or a nickel on a bottle of water have begun to make a coherent case for progressive structural tax reform.
And that case is coming from people who aren’t exactly the enemies of business. No one is ever going to mistake Jay Inslee or Ross Hunter or Reuven Carlyle for Kshama Sawant.
Let’s just hope that Danny Westneat is wrong and they’re not going to cave on their proposal for a capital gains tax.