Our neighbors in need
Re: “Legislature’s ‘Four Corners’ square off on state challenges in 2021” [Jan. 3, Opinion]:
At first read, there seemed to be bipartisan agreement on many important issues facing Washington in 2021 in the legislators’ Op-Eds: “Health-care workers need support,” and we need “new investments in social services” (Sen. John Braun). Also important are “problems related to mental health, substance abuse, homelessness …” (Rep. J.T. Wilcox). Sen. Andy Billig sees “many new challenges” of the pandemic. Rep. Laurie Jinkins supports first responders, families and small businesses, who all are struggling.
But, then, on a second read, we see that this profound crisis can be addressed by “a no-new-taxes budget … while allowing new investments in social services, support for struggling employers and pandemic relief” (Sen. Braun). Rep. Wilcox goes further, saying all this vital state support can be provided by cutting state revenue further. He argues “state lawmakers can balance the operating budget without raising taxes” while suspending B&O (Business & Occupation) tax collections and providing other “tax relief.” This position isn’t credible.
If we see our neighbors aren’t currently getting sufficient help, then something more needs to be done. Those who have improved their financial position this past year should see the need to help others who have lost much.
Chuck Richards, Seattle
Public health, roads
The pandemic has exposed the fallacies of recent legislative initiatives or lack thereof. The Seattle Times has frequently reported on the underfunding of the state’s health department despite pleas from the minority party and the public. The state is now paying the price for that, instead expecting a bailout by the federal government.
Roads, not mass transit, have been the safest way to commute in the past year. It is time to focus on projects and maintenance that will facilitate current and future vehicle transportation needs. Commuters, freight, and service providers rely on such infrastructure to support day-to-day endeavors.
Susan Gardner, Kenmore
I agree with many that pandemic relief, the economy and racism are huge, challenging, immediate priorities.
I also believe that education remains an ever-important priority despite all the attention our Legislature has focused on it in recent years. While not an immediate answer to today’s situation, education is our best, primary long-term plan for combating future pandemics, for future citizens to understand how county, state and federal governments work, and to eradicate racism. To quote Nelson Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
Gwen Gentry, Snohomish
Affordable health care
Of the many urgent challenges facing our legislators, we firmly believe that among the highest priorities should be expanding coverage so all Washingtonians have accessible, affordable health care. Numerous reasons make this urgent, but the economic frailties, inequalities and racist infrastructure embedded deep within our health care system have been exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, disproportionately affecting our uninsured, underinsured and Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) communities.
As primary-care doctors, we have long had front-row seats to the untenable realities facing our patients, our communities and our profession: systemic racial inequities, unreliability of employer-sponsored health coverage, lack of resources in rural areas, lack of affordability for people with insecure or poorly paid work and the plight of the roughly 125,000 people left out entirely by immigration status.
Apple Health, our collective acknowledgment that economic hardship must never hinder an individual’s access to preventive care or from receiving quality health care when sick, needs to cover everyone. We urge our legislators to enact a commitment to bring affordable health care to all Washingtonians by taking concrete steps to expand coverage, increase affordability and define a date for the provision of universal coverage.
Nancy Connolly, M.D., MPH, Seattle; Richard Waters, M.D., MSc, Seattle; and Greg Sanders, M.D., Camano Island
This year must be about clearing the corruption, division and inequality that has been unveiled over the past year. The true power structure has been revealed in this country to be the wealthiest Americans. Accountability is nonexistent when you can buy the result you desire. Passing legislation in our state to make sure that elections are free and fair should be a top priority for any legislator who wants to keep doing good works for the state. Large corporations and political action committees outspend any legislation they disagree with, leaving the people less likely to be heard. When we tried to pass a carbon tax, the fossil-fuel industry flooded our state with millions of dollars in advertising.
Automatic voter registration, emphasis on civic education and engagement, and reform of campaign finance laws to keep large industries and special interests out of the elections will help to ensure that the people of Washington state are heard. Having elections and representatives influenced and supported by the people is what can makes the United States truly great, and Washington state should be a shining example of how we can all participate in a representative democracy.
Christopher Aveline, Tacoma
It is paramount that the public maintains the ability to inform themselves and provide testimony on proposed legislation.
The people’s ability to get involved is severely curtailed with “title only” bills. Toward the end of the session, House and Senate committees will introduce bills that only contain a title, but no text. The Legislature does this to circumvent the constitutional requirement that the public be given five days to review proposed legislation.
Additionally, the “emergency clause” gets attached to all sorts of bills merely to make them immune from the people’s constitutional right to referendum. As an example, SB 5096, which is the proposed capital gains tax and wouldn’t take effect until 2022, is somehow deemed an emergency “necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, or safety, or support of the state government and its existing public institutions.”
The Legislature is certainly facing tough challenges this session, but its actions must maintain the principles of good governance. The practice of utilizing title only bills and overuse of the emergency clause inhibit the people’s right to participate in the process. These practices should be stopped.
Ryan Ottele, Renton
The Legislature’s priorities must focus on preventing long-term harm to single mothers, women of color and working women, who have been the biggest losers in the economic catastrophe of COVID-19. This will require massive state funds to reimburse lost wages and retirement benefits, provide 24-hour free child care, free health care for all and to preserve displaced workers’ place in seniority lines. Frontline workers should receive hazard pay from the state and highest quality protective personal equipment. The state should pick up the tab for increased unemployment rolls, instead of passing on the cost to small employers — who just got whopping increases in Employment Security rates through no fault of their own.
There is an urgent need now for massively increased state support, and this can only be met by changing the state constitution to tax the rich — the corporations and individuals who have increased their wealth while the vast majority face economic disaster.
In addition, the state needs to repeal its ban on rent control, extend the ban on evictions, forgive unpaid rents and give subsidies to small landlords who are hurting from missed income. Again, the way to fill this urgent need is to tax the rich.
Helen Gilbert, Seattle
Regressive tax system
The effect of the market contraction due to the coronavirus on state revenues has had less impact on states with an income tax than those reliant on more regressive taxes like sales and B&O. In fact, many of these states have seen revenues rise rather than fall. Minnesota is forecasting a surplus, and Maryland’s projected revenues have risen twice this fall. That is due to the fact that although the virus has caused many people to lose their jobs, for others it has been a windfall and their income has risen.
Washington state has one of the most regressive tax structures of any state. The lowest 20% of our population by income spends almost 18% of that income on taxes, while the top 1% spends only 3% on taxes. Taxing the wealthiest a small percentage, not on their actual earned income but on what they have gained through profits on their stock holdings, is a way we can capture a little of those winnings to finance critical public needs.
Funding such programs is what keeps this state a desirable place to live. Funding them without pricing average people out of the ability to live here makes sense.
Martha Burke, Suquamish