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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Nick Pitsilionis: Legislators: if you’re worried about my restaurant, pass a wealth tax on capital gains

UPDATED: Thu., March 4, 2021

By Nick Pitsilionis Black Cypress

I opened Black Cypress in 2009 as a dine-in restaurant with the intention of serving and supporting my local community. Buying local wasn’t as much about being a better chef as it was about creating a better local economy for all of us. I’ve seen this in my village in Greece, where everyone is intimately tied to one another out of necessity. There’s resilience in these communities. Local growers, ranchers, bakers, brewers — buying from these people creates an inimitable cuisine but also ties our economic fortunes to one another, because when we all do better, all of our employees have more money to put back into our economy.

The values that guided me in opening Black Cypress inform my support for raising a wealth tax on the capital gains profits of those who can most afford it: the wealthiest 1 percent of Washingtonians. To rebuild our economy and our communities, we must grow out of this crisis by investing in our economy and our communities. The proposal in Olympia — Senate Bill 5096 — would create a wealth tax on capital gains profits made from the sale of stocks and other lucrative assets.

When the pandemic struck, our customers were there for us, doing everything conceivable to ensure we made it through. Even our so-called “competitors,” the people we’re told have every available incentive to see us fail, supported us by ordering food to feed their crews, buying gift certificates, and sending us gift certificates to their establishments. But now it’s time for state lawmakers to do their part. When millions of small businesses fail, that causes decades of damage to an economy, crushing generations of people with job losses, slashing of benefits and other attendant horrors. If you’ve seen it, you know, as I did in Greece with over a decade of austerity and reactionary economic policies.

This proposal would affect less than 1 percent of Washington residents who make more than $250,000 in profits in one year from selling stocks and other lucrative assets. It would exempt retirement accounts, the sale of homes and family-owned small businesses like mine, and farm operations.

There is overwhelming evidence that this is the best thing we can do to recover our economy. During the Great Recession, states like Washington that cut budgets and throttled spending saw longer recessions, delayed recoveries and slower job growth than states that actually increased spending. Simply put, when consumers — the greatest job creators — can’t spend, local economies are devastated.

Despite this overwhelming evidence, business groups have lobbied lawmakers to not raise taxes on those who can afford to pay more. They warn of mass business closures due to higher wages, overtime pay, or paid sick leave — policies that would give customers greater capacity to spend at our restaurants. But when businesses are actually closing, those same business groups want more tax cuts and push to disregard public health measures that actually help us. We need the political will to raise wealth taxes on Washingtonians, who in turn need to think very seriously about what sort of community they want to live in, and realize that we all depend on our shared recovery.

Business owners like me need direct support like state-backed low-interest loans until things are back to normal. We don’t have access to the cheap capital corporations do, and in our case, it’ll be applied to actual productive capacity rather than stock buybacks. But we also need the state to fund direct support for workers and families, because if lawmakers don’t act now, there won’t be enough people with enough money left to be customers. That means investing in things like cash, food and housing assistance for struggling families, expanding unemployment insurance to include every worker in our state, and ensuring working parents have child care so they can return to the workforce and participate in their local economies.

Early in the pandemic, when there were shortages at food banks, an anonymous local donor gave us $10,000 to feed people who were hungry — no questions asked. I’ll always value and cherish what they did, but it should never come to that. Families shouldn’t have to depend on philanthropy to survive. We must step up as a community and we must do this through public policy.

Nick Pitsilioni, Chef-Owner, Black Cypress

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