Washington State is generally considered to be a progressive state – concerned with issues of economic equity, working class values, the underprivileged, the environment, etc. Indeed, these are critical priorities, and making progress in these areas is central to my campaign.
Given the importance of progressive principles, and given the perception of Washington as progressive, it becomes relevant to ask: just how progressive is Washington State? I argue that there are two major areas where Washington State is far from progressive, and that these are areas where there is tremendous room for policy reform. Before continuing, I will emphasize that I am not positing that Washington is not progressive – in many ways, it is. Nor am I attempting to criticize the state’s overall mix of policies. Instead, I am arguing that there are glaring areas where our public policy does not match our stated values, and that these areas should therefore be key areas for change.
The first realm where Washington State does not operate in accordance to progressive principles is taxation. According to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (and corroborated by many other organizations), Washington State has the most regressive tax system in the entire country. This bears repeating: Washington has the most regressive tax system in the nation, three slots below Texas (which occupies the 47th position). The poorest 20% of individuals in Washington State pay 16.9% of their income to state and local government (no other state is even close to this level). And the richest 1% of individuals in Washington State pay just 2.8% of their income to state and local government. Thus, in Washington State, the poorest 20% of individuals have a state and local tax rate that is 6 times higher than the richest 1% of individuals. For the U.S. overall, this ratio is 2.0, and it is just 1.2 for both Oregon and California. (This data is summarized in the table below).
The reasons for this are well known. Washington State is one of very few states without an income tax (which is progressive), and compensates for this with a high sales tax (which is regressive). In addition, Washington State has enacted hundreds of unwarranted tax breaks for its corporations. These tax breaks are effectively tax transfers – they shift the tax burden from the wealthy to the poor.
The second major area where Washington State policy does not comply with progressive values is public education. There is a clear pattern in public education spending in the United States: states with higher average incomes tend to spend more per pupil on public education. Unfortunately, Washington State is an exception to this pattern. Despite being a high income state (13th highest in per capita income in the U.S.), Washington is a low spending state (29th in public education spending per pupil in the U.S.). Combining these measures, Washington State is 44th in spending per pupil as a percentage of personal income. It is this reality that prompted the state Supreme Court to issue its McCleary decision (McCleary vs. Washington, 2012), demanding that the state dramatically increase its per pupil spending level. Indeed, there are a number of critical educational needs – universal kindergarten and pre-kindergarten, increased counseling support for college applications, closing the achievement gaps between different ethnic groups, etc. – which cannot be effectively addressed without this increased funding. Providing adequate funding for public education is a progressive value, but not one that has been realized in Washington State.
Certainly, there are a multitude of areas Washington is progressive (voting for Democratic candidates at the state and federal level, including Obama twice; marijuana legalization; marriage equality; parks budgets; etc.). Nonetheless, Washington remains decidedly non-progressive in two critical areas -- taxation and education. These represent major areas of opportunity for policy improvement, and they are two of the three central priorities of my campaign. Please visit the “Campaign Objectives” section of my website for my detailed proposals.
- John Stafford