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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Michael D. Gallagher: Time to engage in serious policy discussions

Michael D. Gallagher

By Michael D. Gallagher

What’s at stake in the coming midterm elections? If you’re like most people, you’re probably not sure. What you are most likely hearing is a lot of negative campaigning with the message that if some candidate gets elected it will surely bring Armageddon to our state.

It doesn’t have to be that way. As a community we can have real conversations about serious policies. We can debate ideas respectfully and call on candidates to tell us where they stand on the issues. We can move beyond the nasty politics of personal destruction and have focused discussions about issues that are important to all of us.

That is why Washington Policy Center has launched “Solutions on the Table,” a series of bipartisan policy proposals that will improve our state’s economy and environment, make daily life more affordable, and improve education for children.

WPC is publisher of the Policy Guide to Washington State, a factual, detail-rich resource of reform ideas that we send to all legislators, candidates and civic-minded individuals seeking insight into how our state works and ways to improve it. We historically have sent this encyclopedia of empowering polices to incoming legislators in late November, ahead of the start of their legislative session in January. Our policy guide is on the shelves of many legislators today.

We want to put these common-sense, nonpartisan ideas “On the Table” year-round for Washington families and businesses to engage in civic debate and form their own opinions. We are evolving that detailed resource to be digital, mobile and approachable. More important, we are releasing these ideas now.

For example, our environmental expert, Todd Myers, used state data to find the increase in cost of gasoline to the consumer from the new cap-and-trade law. He found that next year it will add 46 cents to the cost of a gallon of gas, nearly doubling Washington’s 49-cent gas tax. As people learn about the new tax, the questions will naturally come up – why are we doubling the state’s gas tax at this time, and who supports that idea?

In another example, the governor ended his use of emergency powers on Halloween, 975 days after he invoked them. Yet the impact of his school closures (among the longest in the nation) will continue across the lifetimes of students. The long-term social and financial harms to children are only now becoming clear. Parents are asking, what is the public school system doing to get our kids back on track?

The hard experience of the last two years shows we need a more flexible and responsible education system. Choice in education would bring immediate benefits to distressed families. One solution is to offer a flexible state-funded Education Saving Account to every family that wants one. Parents could then select to access to a better school, hire a tutor, switch to a different public school, or opt for a class online – whatever works best to help their child achieve their full potential. The community interest would be served because our public education dollars would directly benefit children, not fund entrenched systems.

Another top concern is the struggle with skyrocketing prices – grocery prices, gas prices, rents, and more. According to the Revenue Forecast Council, despite record-high expenditures, Washington state predicts another budget surplus of $1.5 billion. Billion – with a B. Yet, Washington has not provided broad-based tax relief. Over the past two years, even leaders in deep-blue California and New York have eased the financial burden they place on their residents, leaving Washington to stand alone in its refusal to provide relief.

In Washington a bipartisan bill was introduced to cut our high 6.5% sales tax for the first time since 1982. It didn’t get a hearing. Once voters are educated about the high tax burden they bear and the surplus in Olympia, there may be renewed interest in considering this idea, or possibly passing property tax or small business tax relief. Any of these proposals would help Washingtonians hammered by inflation and help working families meet the needs of daily life.

Engaging future policymakers on real issues elevates political conversations. Respectful dialog, informed by facts, is the best way to bring about positive change and reduce divisions. Washington Policy Center is pleased to do its part by putting those Solutions On the Table.

Michael Gallager is the president/CEO of Washington Policy Center and is based in Seattle. 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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