After a New York Times report surprised exactly no one by revealing President Trump’s meager tax filings, a lot of people around the country were mad.
But in Washington, we all should have been even more mad — because here, the homeless pay more in taxes than the country’s president.
Washington holds the uniquely embarrassing distinction of having the most regressive tax structure in the nation. Worse than Florida.
That means people who earn the least pay the highest percentage of their earnings, while folks who have the most pay the least.
In addition to the federal taxes we pay on our income, Washington, Seattle and King County all balance the books with other taxes that disproportionately impact people who earn less money.
There are property taxes, which homeowners pay and landlords pass on to renters, sales taxes, car tab fees and business taxes.
This may seem fair on its face — everyone has to buy stuff, and car and property taxes are based on the value of the items — but! It’s a matter of percentage of overall earnings.
In Washington, poor people pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes and tend to pay taxes on more things, while rich people pay very little, even though rich people probably wouldn’t notice a difference in their means if they paid the percentage poor people pay.
If you make $80 per day and spend $25 on household stuff like batteries and socks, the 10 percent sales tax accounts for another 3.5 percent of your total earnings. If you make $321 million in one day and buy a $25 thing of head wax (I’m guessing), that same sales tax doesn’t make a dent.
Homeless folks also arguably pay more sales tax than wealthy folks due to their specific needs. The unsheltered life means buying things that are disposable and replacing belongings when they’re worn out or, more often, when they’re trashed during a sweep.
Homeless folks are also more likely to buy prepared food (taxed) rather than fresh ingredients (not taxed) and must buy their way into a coffee shop (taxed) just to use a bathroom.
For years, lawmakers in Olympia have wrangled with taxes.
And for years, the system has remained the same. For all intents and purposes, it’s safe to guess the can will get kicked down the road again this year.
The president isn’t the only rich guy who’s allergic to taxes — and the poorer you are, the madder that should make you.
Hanna Brooks Olsen is a writer and political consultant.
Read more in the Oct. 7-13, 2020 issue.