Cuts for the poor, or taxes for the rich? | As It Turns Out | April

Both federal and state operating budgets are being cut back in hopes of keeping us from falling over the brink we’re currently teetering on into bankruptcy.

Yes, we’re in one heck of a fiscal pickle. So what are our options?

Tax Cuts: Here in Washington, Governor Christine Gregoire feels forced to cut back on education, public safety, human services, health care, and natural resources — all of which have already been severely cut over the past nine years.

But liberals question cutting back on services so obviously needed by not only the poor and the jobless, but by everyone — and particularly so in our current recession. Conservatives feel we are able to pay for everything ourselves, but can we?

Not unless we’re hovering around the top rungs of the economic ladder.

Sales Tax: Gregoire’s sales tax proposals include bottled water, carbonated beverages, cigarettes, candy and gum. Fine, we understand that our state’s income needs to come from somewhere, but increased sales tax places a far heavier burden on the poorest of us than it does on the richest of us.

As I write this, the state Legislature has gone into a special session to decide how best to close a projected $2.6 billion operating budget.

State Income Tax for the Richest: One possible solution for our economic dilemma that politicians have been a bit shy of discussing in any great detail is the state income tax proposal, which — unfortunately — probably won’t even make it to the November ballot. Oregon voters approved their income tax hike for the rich in January of this year, although it was easier for them because they already have a state income tax and no sales tax.

Senate Bill 6250 would give us the option of levying an income tax on high-wage earner. Senator Rosa Franklin, D-Tacoma, said this tax could raise an annual $1.46 billion for a state in immediate need of the income.

“Our current tax structure was developed more than a century ago for an economy based on agriculture, manufacturing and local commerce. It was appropriate then and for many decades afterward, but over time it has become less and less appropriate and adequate for the needs of our modern economy,” Franklin said. “It is time that we begin to restructure an outdated system that does not fit in 21st century Washington. Last year we made up for our revenue shortfall by cutting the budget. We did not address the growing imbalance and inequity of our tax structure.”

President Barack Obama has also talked of an income tax hike for the richest because this is where the remaining available income is left. Liberals like this idea because their belief is that we’re all in this together and if you’re in need and they can help, they will. Taxation shares the wealth and keeps our infrastructure strong, enabling shared prosperity.

Our other option is ridding ourselves entirely of what conservatives see as our bloated government, whose foremost idea is to first help themselves before thinking about helping others.

There’s no room for coddling the needy in their world. The consequences of this conservative ideology are pretty frightening.

“Taxes are what you pay to be an American, to live in a civilized society that is democratic and offers opportunity, and where there’s an infrastructure that has been paid for by previous taxpayers. This is a huge infrastructure. The highway system, the Internet, the TV system, the public education system, the power grid, the system for training scientists — vast amounts of infrastructure that we all use, which has to be maintained and paid for. Taxes are your dues — you pay your dues to be an American.

“In addition, the wealthiest Americans use that infrastructure more than anyone else, and they use parts of it that other people don’t. The federal justice system, for example, is nine-tenths devoted to corporate law. The Securities and Exchange Commission and all the apparatus of the Commerce Department are mainly used by the wealthy. And we’re all paying for it,” says George Lakoff in the UC Berkeley News. “It is an issue of patriotism! Are you paying your dues, or are you trying to get something for free at the expense of your country?”

Columnist Marylin Olds can be reached at