As budget negotiations drag on, it’s important to keep an eye on what’s really at stake. The real disagreements here are not about spending levels or revenues. The real disagreements are about fundamental American values.
Three simple questions spotlight the values at stake:
Do we believe in equal opportunity and justice?
Do we believe everyone should do their fair share?
Do we believe our children should have a fair shot at prosperity?
Washington has the most regressive tax system in the United States. The wealthiest in our state pay 2.4 percent in taxes, while low-income people pay nearly 17 percent. At the same time, we have become the poster child of the income inequality crisis. All of Washington’s real income growth since the recession has gone to the top 1 percent.
This combination of inequality and our nefariously upside-down tax system is unraveling our ability to maintain strong communities and support thriving families. Which leaves us at a crossroads.
We can continue to let the wealthiest few rig the system and pay little or no taxes, while neglecting the vital services working families need — such as schools, care for vulnerable seniors and public safety. Or we can hold everyone accountable for paying their fair share to protect the communities we love and ensure all of our children can thrive.
Legislators from both parties have helped create our current mess. But it’s clear today that only one party is dedicated to defending this rigged system at all costs.
In lockstep with their party nationally, Senate Republicans have blocked efforts to build a more sustainable budget, relying on gimmicks and kicking the can down the road on the real problems. They are ideologically opposed to closing unjustified tax loopholes or asking the wealthy to pay their fair share. Many are quite wealthy themselves — at least half are millionaires.
Making matters worse, they have blocked all efforts to help hardworking families achieve more financial security on their own, like increasing the minimum wage or providing paid sick leave.
To build an economy that works for everyone, not just the wealthiest few, we must invest in families first.
We cannot have great schools, strong public safety and a workable mental health care system unless we pay for them, and that revenue should come from those who can afford it.
With a government shutdown looming, we should consult our moral compass to navigate the counter-proposals and finger pointing. Which proposals promote equal opportunity and justice? Who is asking everyone to do their fair share? Which proposals give our children a fair shot at prosperity?
Honest answers to these questions will point legislators toward a compromise that puts families first and avoids a costly shutdown.
Aaron Ostrom is the executive director of Fuse Washington, the state’s largest progressive organization.