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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Growth rates don’t lie – policies put Washington in peril

By Chris Cargill

By Chris Cargill

Three short years ago, I wrote an op-ed warning that policy choices and political incompetence could create a mass exodus in Washington state. It was the policy center’s most-read publication that year, hitting a nerve with Washingtonians fed up with high taxes and government overreach.

It was fairly obvious prediction. Naturally, freedom-minded people tend to move in search of greater freedom.

In the 2000s and even into the 2010s, our state was one of the fastest growing in the nation. Back then, a 13% growth rate was celebrated as evidence that Washington’s leaders were doing something right. But my, how times have changed.

The latest population numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that Washington’s growth has nearly died out. From July 2020 to July 2021, our state population growth was an anemic 0.3%, a fraction of what it was in past years.

The numbers are even worse when it comes to domestic migration – that is, the number of people who moved from one state to another. Many states gained tens of thousands of new residents, but Washington had a net reduction of 29 residents. Florida, by contrast, gained 220,000 people moving in from other states. Nearby Idaho? Our eastern neighbors attracted 48,000 new people. Oregon? That state attracted more than 8,000 new people.

A community that isn’t growing is dying, and the latest statistics show that Washington’s near-term future is grim.

Idaho earned one of the highest growth rates, in part because lawmakers last year passed the largest tax cut in state history.

U-Haul – the national moving company – says 2 million Americans rented a U-Haul for a one-way move in 2021. The states people moved away from were mostly high tax, high regulation states. Think tax-heavy California, New York and Illinois.

The states that received the most inbound traffic (Idaho, Texas, Florida, Tennessee) are low-tax, low-regulation states.

Citizens vote with their feet, and they are casting a very large, silent ballot as we speak. Can we really blame them?

Washington was one of only two states that did not give its citizens any tax relief in the past year. In fact, lawmakers here raised taxes.

Washington remains not only under one-party rule, but one-man rule. Gov. Jay Inslee has ruled with solo emergency powers for nearly two years now. These days, the Legislature conducts little oversight of what the executive branch is doing.

Washington is the only state to adopt an income tax starting with capital gains.

Washington is the only state to adopt a new long-term care payroll tax.

State bureaucrats messed up the state’s unemployment insurance system, losing millions of tax dollars to Nigerian scammers.

The Washington state teachers union dominates public schools, insisting on funding for buildings and empty classroom seats rather than children.

Homeless people crowd the streets in our state’s three largest cities – with state and local officials seemingly unwilling or unable to do anything about it.

The list goes on. For those of us who grew up in Washington and are raising a family here, the decline of the Evergreen state is heartbreaking.

What can lawmakers do to turn things around? Repealing the state’s new income tax would be a good start.

Giving families control over education dollars would be another leap forward.

Bringing back normal democracy would also help.

Our state’s flat growth rate is not permanent. Even modest positive policy changes can spur interest in our state.

But without a fundamental shift, Washington runs the risk of losing a chance at a brighter future.

Chris Cargill is the Eastern Washington director of Washington Policy Center, an independent research organization with offices in Spokane, Seattle, Tri-Cities and Olympia. Online at washingtonpolicy.org. Members of the Cowles family, owners of The Spokesman-Review, have previously hosted fundraisers for the Washington Policy Center, and sit on the organization’s board.

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