May 2, 2011 in Opinion

Tax breaks burden poor

Liz Moore Special to The Spokesman-Review
 

Washington state is fast on its way to becoming the Evergreen gated community, with starkly different futures for the haves and have-nots. It’s time to tell our elected officials to set a better course.

Our state is at a defining crossroads. Funding for vital public services such as kindergarten, class-size reductions, colleges and universities, toxic cleanups, hospitals and Basic Health have all been slashed and now face even deeper cuts.

Washington state already slashed $5 billion from essential public services in the past two years – and then another $750 million on top of that, because of higher-than-expected revenue shortfalls – and lawmakers are considering another $5 billion in reductions over the next two years.

The basic elements that define Washington – our world-class research facilities, our beautiful environment, our caring communities, our smarter-than-average work force – are all at stake.

We’re told that there is nothing we can do, that this is the new reality and that we should just accept this lower quality of life.

Our kids are struggling, tuition is skyrocketing, harmful chemicals are seeping into our water and seniors are being kicked out of their homes. Simultaneously, corporations are banking record profits and Olympia continues to hand out billions in tax breaks for corporate special interests with no review of whether those breaks serve any purpose whatsoever.

There are real choices to be made here, and it’s high time to hold our state lawmakers accountable for the glaring inequalities of giving tax breaks to the wealthiest while eliminating vital public services to the neediest.

For example: The money given away in tax breaks for Wall Street banks could fund the Basic Health plan so that more people can see a doctor if they get sick. The money given away in tax breaks for chemical fertilizers could let more seniors live with dignity by providing in-home care. The money given away in tax breaks for cosmetic procedures could be used to make sure kids don’t go hungry.

Only in a cruel world paralyzed by wealthy, vested interests does it make sense to hand out tax breaks to those who don’t need them, while putting the burden of the recession on those who can least afford it. But that’s what’s happening.

Of the astounding 567 existing tax breaks in Washington, only 95 have ever actually been reviewed by the Legislature. Although a bipartisan committee recommended terminating 29 unjustified tax breaks to recover millions in lost revenue, nothing was done. Meanwhile, the problem is growing and our tax code looks more and more like a slice of Swiss cheese, full of holes.

Every year, parents, teachers, nurses, firefighters and advocates have to justify every penny spent on the services that support our communities. But special-interest tax breaks dodge the scrutiny that applies to all other spending. That’s not right, and it’s not fair.

We’ve been told that closing tax loopholes is too difficult, because Tim Eyman’s two-thirds rule applies. But that raises another problem. It’s absurd and undemocratic to create tax breaks by a simple-majority vote but require a two-thirds vote to eliminate them. 

There is no good reason to oppose ending unjustified tax breaks for Wall Street banks, private jets and cosmetic procedures. Any legislator who defends a tax break for Wall Street banks over basic funding for clinics and classrooms should be embarrassed, ashamed and voted out.

It’s time for our legislators to work for us and to start taking responsibility for our future. Tell your lawmakers to stop subsidizing tax dodgers and outsourcers, and to invest in our kids, our future and our quality of life.

Liz Moore is the director of the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane.


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