By Emily Parzybok
As Washingtonians, we work hard and pitch in together to build diverse and healthy communities, cultivating places where our families and future generations can flourish for years to come. We band together to ensure our kids are educated, our loved ones can afford health care, and we all have the supports we need. When we were tested by a pandemic and historic racial uprisings, we came together again – as we’ve always done – and demanded change. But there’s only so much we can do until the leaders we elected take action, especially when it comes to the taxes we pay.
For nearly 100 years, the wealthiest people and corporations in Washington have reaped the benefits of our hard-earned contributions. Our tax dollars fund the things that keep our cities and towns alive – like the buses we ride to work and the parks our kids play in – and everyone benefits. But while we work and pay our taxes, the wealthiest hoard the wealth that our work creates while rigging the rules so they don’t have to pay their share. They’ve spent decades paying for lobbyists, lawyers and campaign hacks that maintain an upside-down tax system that allows them to build unfathomable amounts of wealth and live on it, nearly tax free. Last year, our Legislature created a modest capital gains tax to be paid by only the wealthiest in Washington, and those powerful few are opening the war chest to repeal this tax – they don’t want to pay it, and they’re using their power to make sure they don’t have to.
Instead of funding the school supports our kids need, Washington’s wealthiest are fighting for a tax cut for themselves in Washington’s courts. Some of the richest Washingtonians are behind the lawsuit to repeal the capital gains tax, a policy which invests millions of dollars in education and early learning for all Washington kids. Many of these wealthy folks sit on boards and donate their funds to causes that actively harm working families – including lowering the minimum wage and opposing sick and paid family leave. For them, it’s not enough to funnel resources away from our communities; they want to go further by repealing a capital gains tax, a move that would gut $500 million per year in critical funding for our future.
The legal fight isn’t enough for them, either. They’re so unwilling to pay their share that they’ve taken their costly effort at hoarding unethical levels of wealth to the ballot, with Initiative 1929. We cannot let this initiative move our state in the wrong direction, where our upside-down tax system already requires that working families pay seven times more of their income in state and local taxes than the wealthiest. Teachers, physicians, food bank workers, homelessness service providers and other advocates fought hard for the passage of the capital gains tax, with the sole goal of funding our communities and fixing our upside down tax code.
This fight for the future of our state is too important to limit to one ballot initiative. That’s why we’re looking ahead. We have to continue the work for a more prosperous state on all fronts by coming together to implement a state-level wealth tax so that Washington’s wealthiest start to pay what they owe to the communities we all share. The pandemic has only exacerbated the need for this type of policy. According to a recent report, Washington’s 15 billionaires grew $186.4 billion, or 58%, richer over the first two years of the pandemic. A wealth tax would generate $2.5 billion each year, bringing long overdue funding to early learning, K-12 education, and other public health services. For perspective, our 2019-2021 state budget allocated $173 million in early learning. This revenue would have an unprecedented impact on the health of our schools and children, providing them with the learning and enrichment opportunities they need. This idea of taxing inordinate wealth has increasingly become popular in recent polling across the political spectrum. Congress and the president are considering a federal billionaire wealth tax.
As we enter the third year of this pandemic and what, we hope, appears to be its end, it has become abundantly clear that this system – one in which those with the most always get more while the rest of us struggle to get by – has to change. The wealthy and powerful have dictated the terms for too long. When we work together, as our coalition did to pass the capital gains tax in 2021, we can make sure our leaders preserve life-saving programs, help people make ends meet, keep workers employed, and ensure all of our tax dollars flow through our communities to keep them alive. And we can do that if we pass a wealth tax. We don’t have to live in a community where folks are brought to their knees by a pandemic. Everyone in our community has a roof over their head, can send their kids to well-funded schools and visit the doctor without worrying about the bill. Only when our tax code is balanced and our communities are funded will our families have what they need.
Emily Parzybok is an essayist and organizer. She serves as the executive director of Balance Our Tax Code and has done legislative advocacy on issues ranging from voting justice to workers rights. She is an MFA candidate in nonfiction creative writing at New York University. She is based in Seattle.