Who should pay to build a wall? Believe it or not, this question was asked some 2,000 years ago by the rabbis of the Talmud who, in the Tractate called Bava Batra, debated how to finance the building of a protective wall around a city. Should everyone contribute equally? Should the people whose houses would be the closest to the wall — and would, therefore, benefit most from it — pay more? Should the wealthiest contribute more than the less well off? Though the example was very specific, what the rabbis were discussing was how to establish a fair tax code. What the wall stands for in the debate is taxes to be levied for social and health services, infrastructure maintenance, the power grid and defense spending. The rabbis eventually rule that all such communal taxes must be assessed progressively, based on wealth, with the wealthiest paying more than the poorest as a percentage of their income.
Yet, hundreds of years later, the rabbis’ call still hasn’t been heeded. At the beginning of this decade, statistics showed that in New York, the total state tax rate for the lowest income earners was 9.6 percent, while for the top earners it was 7.2 percent. In California, it was 10.2 percent for the poorest, 7.4 percent for the wealthiest.
Every recent tax reform has only contributed to widening this gap. And if you think our state is the exception, think again. Washington state’s tax code is the worst in the nation. Our tax code forces those with the least to pay 18 percent of their annual income in state and local taxes while the wealthiest pay just 3 percent — that’s completely upside down.
This legislative session, however, Washingtonians have an opportunity to take a first step toward reversing this devastating trend. A bill, dubbed House Bill 1527, introduced in Olympia this month, aims at providing a Working Families Tax Credit. It has already garnered the support of 35 representatives who have sponsored it. This common-sense proposal, Washington’s version of the highly successful federal Earned Income Tax Credit, puts money back into the pockets of working people who have been paying far more than their share in taxes for too long. What it means is that working people will have a few extra hundred dollars a year to afford a bus pass to get to work, keep up with their house and car payments, and — with the rising cost of living — strengthen their financial security. We have a chance this year to finally enact and fund a modernized Working Families Tax Credit. Call your legislators and tell them to support HB 1527.
As for that other wall being debated today? I believe unequivocally that none of our taxes should go to pay for a wasteful xenophobic barrier.
Read the full Jan. 30 - Feb. 5 issue.
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