Public education is the sacred cow of Washington state politics. Most people agree that investing in the success of the next generation is an imperative duty of our state, yet for years our legislature has failed to do just that. In spite of the dastardly economy and polarizing struggle for control of the Washington State Senate, the real reason for the chronic underfunding of education is a bipartisan lack of political will to pursue state tax reform.
The idea of providing the "ample" money required by our state constitution for education is so popular that even Republicans have evolved from "the party of no" to join Democrats in calling for increased school funding. The critical difference, however, is Senate Republicans' hollow promise to pay for education "without raising taxes." The carefully avoided subtext of this claim is to fund schools at the expense of health care and social service programs.
Any educator will tell you that homeless, hungry and or sick kids struggle to learn, no matter how stellar their classroom environment. The costs of cutting lifeline and social stability services are well documented, and unlike the long-term benefits of education, the toll of increased emergency room visits and incarceration starts to rack up immediately. This "education without revenue" fallacy is a clever wedge strategy designed to pit investment advocates against each other, lock people into a scarcity mentality and distract from the hundreds of millions of dollars that are doled out every year in the form of tax expenditures and loopholes for corporations and the wealthy.
One frightening example is the largest state tax package in U.S. history given to Boeing, totaling more than $8.7 billion through 2040. This deal was granted with no protections against the company transferring jobs elsewhere, which is exactly what Boeing did, transferring thousands of engineering jobs to California before the ink had even dried.
Even smaller tax expenditures that are more politically possible to retract, such as the Big Oil loophole worth $59 million biennially, remains in the legislature's loss ledger due to corporate lobbying from the likes of Shell and BP. These are just two of more than 600 loopholes, many of which are given away with no accountability to the taxpayers onto which they transfer incredible financial pressure.
The legislature also could close a huge tax loophole on capital gains that would raise about $800 million per year, according to the Department of Revenue, from those who are best able to afford it. Washington is one of the few states in the nation that doesn't tax Wall Street profits; that means the rest of us pay up to seven times more in state and local taxes.
To create a world-class education system, we need to take an honest look at who is not doing their part, and demand that our legislature end these unjust tax giveaways. It's time we move beyond the austerity politics that make our communities suffer while corporations and the wealthy are allowed to laugh all the way to the bank. ♦
Mariah McKay is a fourth-generation daughter of Spokane and a community organizer campaigning for racial, social and economic justice. She has worked in biotech and government and currently serves as a public health advocate.