October 4, 2010 in Opinion

Pro: Initiative 1098 is about fairness

DONALD K. BARBIERI Special to The Spokesman-Review
 

I am proud to be chairman of Red Lion Hotels Corporation and former CEO, but my thoughts on the importance of Initiative 1098 are my personal observations. However, it is the 40 years helping build and lead a company that forms my conviction on why we really need 1098.

Simply put, Red Lion and my predecessor companies weren’t a success because of my leadership. They prospered due to the great associates with whom I worked. It is their lives and their children’s futures that are at stake.

They have allowed me and my family to be financially secure while many of them are at risk and falling behind. Their hope of the American Dream, of a healthy family with college education is dimming while I prosper. How can that be right?

Our tax system is unfair. When I look at our employees I see entry-level workers hoping for a future. But how can they get there? The lowest 20 percent of our work force pays 17 percent of their income in state and local taxes. The middle income associates pay over 10 percent while I pay little more than 2 percent of my income in state and local taxes.

This recession shows that unless our employees and their children get a good education, their future is doubtful.

From December 2007 through August 2010 the unemployment picture shows how critical education is. Those in the work force who dropped out of high school are 14 percent unemployed while those who are college grads show only 4.6 percent unemployment.

Our workers and their children need to be educated. But how can they afford it?

Tuition at Spokane Falls Community College has jumped by more than 14 percent in the past two years. That is the opposite of what we need in a recession, when we should be making it easier for workers to go back to school and learn necessary new skills. Tuition at Eastern Washington University and WSU has increased 30 percent in just the past two years. Eastern now tops $6,000 a year, while at WSU it costs over $8,500 to get in the door. One result is that Washington is in the bottom quarter of all states in awarding bachelor’s and graduate degrees. That is no way to build a work force or give hope to hard-working employees for their children’s futures!

And it only gets worse when we look at what is happening in K-12. Our state has become the 45th worst state in the country for student/teacher ratios, meaning that average class sizes exceed 30 students per teacher in many of our schools. We spend less money than Alabama for each public school student in our state. As a result, in Spokane over one-third of all students don’t make it through high school and end up without even a high school diploma.

And way too many of our families are struggling for health care. If you aren’t healthy, how do you learn? The past two years have not been happy ones for the people of the Inland Northwest.

The state’s Basic Health coverage has been cut back just as more workers have lost their health care. Now there are over 15,000 people on the waiting list for basic health coverage, and that’s just in Spokane County.

Initiative 1098 provides the resources to make sure that our employees and their children have the same opportunities for education that we took for granted when we grew up. It ensures that the hundreds of thousands of unemployed who have lost health coverage in this recession can get basic health care. I-1098 will enable community colleges in Spokane, Eastern Washington University and WSU to enroll more students, to prepare them for the global economy. I-1098 is the shot in the arm we need to get our economy back on track.

So, you may wonder, how does Initiative 1098 solve these problems?

First of all, it gives small businesses a break by exempting them from the business and occupation tax. It exempts over four-fifths of all businesses from this tax and decreases it for another 12 percent of businesses. They will keep $260 million that they currently pay in taxes. Secondly, I-1098 gives every single homeowner a property tax cut and every single business with real or personal property a similar property tax cut. Property owners will retain nearly $400 million through this property tax cut.

These two tax cuts will help our citizens weather the storm during this recession. Across the state I-1098 will invest $2 billion a year in education and health care. We will have enough revenues for education reform to ensure that our kids have a high-quality road to high school graduation. We will finally be able to make sure we fulfill our state’s paramount constitutional duty for the education of all children.

We will be able to enroll more students in the community colleges and at EWU and WSU. We will stop the rise in tuition.

I-1098 also invests in health care, so that we will be able to make sure that all the people on the waiting list for basic health are covered and our small businesses have an affordable health care plan to offer their employees. We will reinstate vaccinations for children. We will invest in long-term care for disabled and senior citizens, enabling them to live in their homes with dignity and respect.

And how do we fund it? I-1098 creates a tax on the wealthy in our state — the top 1.2 percent. That’s about 38,000 households out of 3.5 million. The 2 percent I pay in local and state taxes will grow but still not to the percentage of our middle or entry work force.

All these public services are possible with passage of Initiative 1098. The alternative is higher class sizes, more dropouts, more ill people and increased emergency room visits, and more doors to college shut in the face of aspiring students. Please vote for 1098, it’s the right thing to do.

Don Barbieri is chairman of the board of Red Lion Hotels Corp.


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