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

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Lu Hill: Let’s talk about what taxes pay for and why they’re important

By Lu Hill

By Lu Hill

As Tax Day approaches, families, including mine, are gathering all the things to sit down and do taxes. As we figure out what we pay into the system, we must also understand what our tax dollars do for us.

You may think of taxes as boring or complicated, but they are the investments we all make into the services we all need. Everywhere you look here in Spokane, across Eastern Washington and around the entire state, you’ll see our tax dollars at work. Taxes help us get where we’re going: they fund our parks, community centers and mass transit. Taxes educate our kids: the paramount duty of our state – and the biggest expenditure of Washington’s budget – is to pay for schools, technical colleges and universities, teachers, support staff and supplies. Taxes make medical care possible: they fund Medicaid, long-term care for seniors and people with disabilities, mental health, dental care and hospitals. Taxes support our social safety net by paying for food assistance, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, housing supports and so much more.

One of my favorite public resources is the library. As a kid growing up in Hillyard, I spent a lot of time at my elementary school library, even during my lunch and recess breaks. I loved the librarian, Mrs. Kirkland, and was so grateful that she worked with the local Hillyard library branch to bring books to me and my friends at home because she knew we couldn’t get to the public library after school.

But while we all pay into and benefit from the tax system, it is far from fair or equal. In fact, overwhelmingly white, male politicians designed and maintained a tax code that continues to allow a powerful few to build unimaginable amounts of concentrated wealth. What it means now is that the people who have the least income pay the most when it comes to state and local taxes, up to 18% of their income. Those we consider middle income, who earn between $44,000 and $70,100, pay 11% in state and local taxes. And the wealthiest Washingtonians, who bring in $545,900 or more, pay 3% or less.

Our system is upside down; here in Washington, the more you earn, the less you pay (as a percentage of your income). It’s not just unfair and inequitable, it’s the most regressive tax system in the country!

I’m not a tax expert, but I have spent a lot of time advocating for equitable community funding, and I have used social safety nets to create a stable life for my family. I have firsthand experience in paying my share, seeing the benefits of the system and where it falls short.

As we approach Tax Day, I want to celebrate the importance of tax-funded community investments and push back against narratives that taxes are bad – a narrative that all too often is perpetuated by the ultra-wealthy and corporations that simply don’t want to pay their share.

For so many of us, this issue is personal. As a teen mom, I worked as a waitress to support myself and pay for college as a first-generation college student. And the tax dollars I received from grants and other supports were critical to helping me pursue my education at Eastern Washington University. Now, I have a great career, two awesome kids getting the benefits of public schools and a strong commitment to give back to my community.

I knew I couldn’t make it alone. Most of us work hard for our loved ones and pull together for each other. We make our communities strong by giving our time and talent. And in return we must also ensure we have enough tax funding so that every kid can learn in a great library and a well-funded school, every family can have safe, affordable housing, and everyone can have the tools to build a good life for themselves.

I hope you’ll join me in learning more and getting involved with organizations like Washington State Budget and Policy Center, Invest in Washington Now, and Balance Our Tax Code. It’s going to take all of us to come together, as we have in the past – from the Civil Rights era to the modern racial and climate justice movements – to create a tax code and economy that works for everyone.

Lacrecia “Lu” Hill is a fourth-generation Spokanite who has long been involved in supporting the community in the nonprofit, philanthropic and small business sectors. She is the community engagement and strategy director at Empire Health Foundation. These thoughts are her own.