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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Jane Nelson-Low and Mary Lou Johnson: Clean up state tax code to help working families

By Jane Nelson-Low and Mary Lou Johnson For The Spokesman-Review

As grandmothers, we tell our grandkids “never cry wolf” and “everyone needs to do their part.” At a time when middle-class and working families are paying an increasing share of their earnings in state and local taxes while children across our state struggle to receive a high-quality education, it seems some legislators have forgotten these simple lessons.

What’s going on? Lawmakers are crying wolf to protect tax breaks for the wealthy and powerful who aren’t doing their part. Washington has the most upside-down tax code in the nation, filled with special giveaways in the form of hundreds of tax breaks. The result is that working families and the middle class pay a far greater share of their earnings in taxes than the wealthiest households, while our schools struggle. We were shocked to learn that working families and the middle class pay up to seven times the rate the wealthiest pay.

Lawmakers have a historic opportunity to solve our state’s perpetual budget woes, fully fund our public schools in every community and maintain key public investments in our communities. But in order to do so, we need to clean up the tax code so that it works for all of us.

We take a lot of pride in Spokane and our state. There’s nowhere we’d rather live. With our state’s innovative businesses, a growing economy and a booming population, we should have the resources to fund the best schools and infrastructure in the nation.

That’s why we are working locally as part of the All In For Washington campaign to find real solutions to the tax code problem. In meetings with over 700 people in Spokane, this past year, we heard stories from young parents struggling to pay child care expenses, students burdened with crushing school debt who believe they will never be able to afford a home, and seniors concerned that they will not be able to pay for the care they need as they age. It doesn’t have to be this way.

We must first address the 694 tax breaks powerful special interests have forced into the tax code. Many of these tax breaks benefit only those at the top and siphon billions of tax dollars out of our communities. Furthermore, most don’t have restrictions or expiration dates. Those at the top have especially exploited the tax break for capital gains. Washington is one of only nine states that don’t collect revenue on profits from the sale of stocks, bonds and other luxury investments. This tax break benefits the top 2 percent in our state – only the richest of the rich – at the expense of the rest of us. Closing the tax break on capital gains could raise over a billion dollars for our schools and children.

Some claim that our tax code isn’t a problem. They’d have us believe that our schools and our state will be fine if we ignore it. As mothers of five and grandmothers of 10 collectively, we believe this is about the kind of state we want to build for our children and grandchildren. It’s also about the state we want to continue to live and volunteer in; the state we want to enjoy in our free time, basking in the natural beauty of places like our Riverside State Park.

We know that we can accomplish more when we all chip in together to fulfill our patriotic duty. The more than 700 people we’ve talked to across Spokane are ready to clean up our tax code and invest now for the sake of our shared future. We envision not just excellent schools, but vibrant parks and community spaces, affordable homes, clean water and safe streets.

We believe most people in Spokane and Washington share this vision. It should be a no-brainer for our elected leaders to come together, stop crying wolf and start making sure everyone is doing their part to make our state great. Let’s clean up the tax code so that everyone pays what they owe, and so we can fully invest in our public schools and collective future.

Jane Nelson-Low is a retired Episcopal priest. Mary Lou Johnson is a retired nurse practitioner and attorney. Both are with the Spokane Alliance.