Initiative 1098 supporters hail the measure as tax reform. But former Washington state Gov. Dan Evans, a supporter of tax reform, explains why it is not reform and why he is voting against the bad policy of the initiative.
I HAVE lived in Washington my entire life and I love our state.
I’ve always believed we face challenges with bold, reform-minded ideas. The income-tax proposed in Initiative 1098 is not real reform. It’s a bad idea and I will vote against it.
As Washington’s governor between 1965 and 1977, I twice led the fight to achieve real tax reform. Reform that was designed to create a fair system and included an income tax. Reform that balanced spending and appropriate levels of taxation. Reform that was constitutional. Reform that drastically reduced property taxes. Reform that substantially lowered the state sales tax. As governor, I worked with Republicans, Democrats and independents during good economic times and bad. We found common ground on many issues, from spending priorities to education reform.
I still believe reform is possible. But I-1098 is bad policy.
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My good friend of 50 years, Bill Gates Sr., is the spokesman for I-1098. He and I agree on most things, including the need for tax reform. I was initially interested in I-1098’s potential. But friends can disagree and still be friends. After a thorough review, I believe that passage of I-1098 would be a grave mistake.
I-1098 would lead to years of uncertainty that could irreparably harm Washington’s ability to thrive in challenging economic times.
This is a matter of great consequence for our state.
The proposed income tax is wrongly aimed and poorly constructed. I oppose it for four main reasons:
• This initiative comes with no constitutional protections to prevent it from being extended to everyone in the state.
• It is divisive and disproportionately hits the small- and medium-sized businesses we need to create jobs for our citizens.
• Policymakers should be making tough choices about our priorities. I-1098 delays these decisions indefinitely.
• And, 1098 would have a devastating impact on charitable giving.
Let me explain.
First, when I served in the United States Senate, Louisiana Sen. Russell Long used to recite a ditty about taxes: “Don’t tax you, don’t tax me, tax the fella behind the tree.” But when spending desires in Olympia increase, the Legislature will incrementally add a few more Washington taxpayers to the ranks of those hurt by this income tax. Special interests will seek the money and taxpayers will approve because they think they are “not behind the tree.”
I-1098 includes no constitutional protections — which are vital for a responsible tax system — to prevent the tax from growing over time. It is very much like the old fable about the frog and a pot of boiling water. If you drop the frog into a pot of boiling water he will leap out immediately. But, if you put a frog into a pot of cold water and gradually heat the water, the frog will not realize his peril until it is too late. Let’s not be the frog.
Second, we’re all in this economic crisis together and cannot afford to divide into factions — “us” versus “them” — if we want to create a better future. Over two-thirds of the people who’ll be hurt by this tax are business owners. For small businesses, generated income must support new investment, business expansion and new jobs. At a time when unemployment is at nearly 9 percent in Washington, I don’t believe any voter really thinks it is a good idea to cripple small-business expansion when we have a fragile economy.
Third, we do have a revenue problem. But, we also have a spending problem. During the last economic boom, we didn’t save enough money and the Legislature embarked on an unsustainable spending spree. If I-1098 passes, we’ll have lost the opportunity to rethink what state government does, truly reform education, create new government efficiencies and abandon unnecessary programs. The pressure will be off policymakers and we will lock in the status quo.
Finally, having been involved in the United Way and the University of Washington over many years, I’ve seen firsthand the generosity of our state’s citizens. Compared with other parts of the country, we contribute to charities at very high levels. I-1098 would not only tax citizens who provide over half of our charitable contributions, but it would also provide no deduction for the charitable giving that remained. Discouraging charitable giving at a time of need is terribly misguided.
We all love our state and want to know that our brightest days are ahead. For all of the reasons above, Initiative 1098 fails as tax reform. True tax reform is comprehensive, constitutional, prioritized and fair.
I-1098 is none of these. It is a tax increase, is not reform and should be defeated.
Daniel J. Evans served three terms as Washington’s governor from 1965 to 1977 and represented the state in the U.S. Senate from 1983 to 1989.