State income tax not the solution to Washington’s budget woes
In my Republican response to the governor's State of the State address last month, I said the Legislature should cut non-essential services and set spending priorities to close a projected $7 billion budget deficit. Most important, we should eliminate the option of raising taxes on families already struggling to make ends meet in this tight economy.
Unfortunately, just after I made that statement, a measure was introduced in the Senate proposing an amendment to Washington's Constitution to allow a state income tax.
I strongly oppose an Washington state income tax for several reasons.
First, proponents claim an income tax would prevent future budget problems by providing a more stable revenue source.
Let's read between the lines. What they're really saying is that the goal of an income tax is to increase our taxes. Washington's citizens are overtaxed already. Increasing our tax burden would harm struggling families and cause further damage to our ailing economy.
Advocates of a state income tax fail to acknowledge that Washington does not have a revenue problem. It has a spending problem. That's the mistake that got us into this mess in the first place. Although incoming revenue has continued to steadily rise since Gov. Gregoire has been in office, the Legislature has repeatedly spent far more than the state was taking in.
Washington is one of seven states that does not tax citizens' incomes. The Washington Policy Center reports in most of the nine states that have recently adopted income taxes, the rate of government spending subsequently increased while personal income growth was reduced in six of those states.
If an income tax is supposedly the solution to budget deficits, why then do states that tax income, such as California, have some of the largest budget deficits in the nation?
The report also noted income taxes reduce state competitiveness, increase costs and complexity to the tax code, and diminish the incentive for people to work, save and invest — all vital components of a vibrant, prosperous state.
Second, there is little reason to have confidence in claims that an income tax would replace existing taxes. Remember, in Olympia, tax reform is double speak for tax increases. Until government spending habits are changed to stop expansion of the state budget, how could we trust that income tax advocates would use tax reform for any other purpose than increasing the amount of money available for even more state spending?
Washington voters have rejected the income tax six times from 1934 to 1973 — the last time by a vote of three to one. It's no coincidence this issue only comes to the surface when the state is facing a budget shortfall. As Winston Churchill noted, “For a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle.”
A state income tax will not solve Washington's budget problems. Instead, we must adopt sound economic policies to help businesses in the private sector preserve existing jobs and create new ones. We need to set priorities of government, ensure transparency in budgeting, take tax increases off the table, set a firm spending limit, and finally, learn from past mistakes so we don't repeat this budget mess in the future.
EDITOR'S NOTE: State Rep. Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, represents the 39th Legislative District, and also serves as chairman of the Washington House Republican Caucus. He can be contacted at (360) 786-7967 or from his Web site at: houserepublicans.wa.gov/Kristiansen.