In his recent essay, “Karl Marx Was Right” (Truthdig, May 31), Chris Hedges cites Karl Marx’s prediction that in its final stages, “[capitalism] would prey upon, in the name of austerity, the working class and the poor, driving them ever deeper into debt and poverty and diminishing the capacity of the state to serve the needs of ordinary citizens.”
We have been watching this play out here in Washington before our very eyes. The combination of rising inequality and an upside-down tax structure that favors the wealthy elite has contributed to the precipitous decline in state revenue. Year after year, the legislative response is to cut education and essential services to poor people, rather than seeking to close tax exemptions for corporations or introduce any tax increases that would create a fairer tax system.
In Washington, consistently ranked as having the least fair tax structure in the country, the top 1 percent of earners in our state pay 2.4 percent of their income in taxes, while the bottom one-fifth pay nearly 17 percent.
This year, the issue is front and center as the House and Senate debate and negotiate the state’s 2015-2017 budget. With a June 30 deadline for a possible government shutdown looming, the House held a public hearing on its latest bill, HB 1106.
This bill isn’t perfect, but it’s a fair compromise. It provides reasonable funding for essential services and retains the hotly contested capital gains tax, which taxes the profits from sales of stocks and investments. This tax, though estimated to impact only 2 percent of Washington earners, would be the first meaningful revenue measure in years. Even the Seattle Times editorial board wrote that the legislature should consider a capital gains tax, calling it “a provocative idea that could ease our regressive tax code.”
Washington United for Fair Revenue, a grassroots tax fairness campaign, asked me to testify before the House Appropriations Committee in support of the bill. They asked me because, as the managing director of a newspaper that writes about and is distributed by low-income people, I am able to speak about the impact of years of budget cuts to essential services like mental health care.
I’ve directly witnessed, on the faces of our vendors, the way cuts have disproportionately affected low-income people and people of color.
The campaign also asked me to testify for another reason: my class privilege. As a passionate advocate for tax fairness despite the fact that I’d pay more in taxes myself, I was somewhat of an anomaly in the room. Because of some assets passed down to me early in life, I receive investment income that might be subject to the proposed state capital gains tax (depending on where the exemption level is set). Recently, I was one of approximately 100 high-income earners who signed a petition saying we want to pay our fair share and do our part to resolve the growing revenue crisis in our state. Our testimony is one that the legislators do not commonly hear.
In preparing my remarks, I had to get over my discomfort about publicly acknowledging my own class privilege. But just as white silence is white consent when it comes to racial justice issues, wealthy liberals who benefit from unjust economic policies are complicit in their disregard for our most vulnerable people if they don’t call those policies into question.
A final budget must include fair revenue provisions like the capital gains tax so that the state can fully fund education and protect essential safety-net services.
Please call or email your legislators and ask them to support fair revenue solutions put forth in the latest House budget proposal. Your voice will truly make a difference.