I have four primary priorities as a State Senator:
First, fully comply with the State Supreme Court’s McCleary Decision to increase funding for K-12 education.
Our state faces critical education needs – universal kindergarten and expanded pre-kindergarten, classroom size reduction, teacher cost-of-living pay increases, increased counselling support for students to assist in the college application process, etc. These will not be possible without additional education funding. Washington State should not be 44th in the nation in per pupil spending as a percent of personal income, nor be 46th in the country in the percentage of its high school students that go directly to college.
Complying with McCleary will require transferring tax authority from local districts to the state government, and will also require additional revenue – perhaps $3.5 billion per biennium. Republicans have obstructed progress on complying with McCleary for one reason – it will require a tax increase. Thus, dealing with McCleary will require dealing with the state’s broken tax system.
There is the possibility of a “grand bargain”: a transfer of tax responsibility from local districts to the state, and more levy equalization (both of which favor the more conservative Eastern Washington districts), coupled with the introduction of a new progressive tax (which is favored by Western Washington’s more liberal districts). The failure of the State Legislature to address this issue is hindering progress on other legislation, and must be addressed. I have written about the McCleary decision: Much Ado About McCleary (September, 2016).
Second, deal with the state’s broken tax structure.
Washington State has become a low tax state. In 1995, Washington State was 16th in the nation in state and local taxes as a percentage of personal income. State taxes have been reduced precipitously since then, and Washington State is now 35th in the nation in this measure – a startling drop of almost 20 ranks. In addition, the poorest 20% of our citizens pay 17% of their income in taxes; whereas the richest 20% pay 5%. This makes Washington the most regressive state in the country for taxation. The combination of these two dimensions is dreadful: Washington is a low tax state that underprovides services (leading to a rash of lawsuits, such as McCleary), and the services it does provide are excessively paid for by the poor.
I favor the introduction of a capital gains tax on high income earners (I would also support an income tax, but this is not politically feasible at this time). I also favor the repeal of corporate tax breaks. There are over 650 tax breaks on the books, and the number grows each year. In recent years, there has been legislation passed to establish sunset provisions for new tax breaks, and to increase corporate reporting on the benefits of existing tax breaks (both of which I support). These are important but incremental changes. It is time to take the next (and most important) step – a significant repeal of existing corporate tax breaks. I have written about Tax Reform previously: Washington State's Broken Tax System (September, 2014).
Third, meaningfully address the crisis of global warming.
Global warming is the major public policy challenge of our era. I support policy to address climate change on a number of fronts. First, the state needs a tax on carbon. I favor I-732, although I acknowledge that it has two problems: it appears to be somewhat revenue-negative (although the extent to which this is true is debated); and it does not do enough to address issues of climate justice.
I-732 is patterned off of a similar tax that has been successfully implemented in British Columbia. In effect, a tax is placed on the sale of fossil fuels, which serves to reduce consumption. The proceeds from the carbon tax are then redistributed back to society via several channels (e.g., a reduction in the sales tax, tax reimbursements for low-income individuals, etc.), making the overall approach revenue-neutral. I also support incentives to encourage renewable energy (e.g., extensions of the solar tax credit, etc.), ongoing enforcement of I-937 (requiring utilities to meet specific renewable energy targets), increased investment in transit, and other policies. I have written on the challenge of Global Warming: Climate Change Policy: Our Collective Shame (September, 2015).
Fourth, raise the minimum wage in Washington State.
Income inequalities are at an all-time high. Raising the minimum wage in Seattle, despite dire predictions by some conservative policy analysts, has been successful – it has led to higher wages for lower income workers without significant negative effects on the economy. It is now time to raise the minimum wage statewide. I have written on the need to address Income Inequalities: Income Inequalities and Their Societal Dangers (May, 2014).
5. Continue to Increase Access to Health Care
● I support a Single Payer Health Care system, and see the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) as an interim step in this direction.
● It is critical to ensure that Washington State is successful in its implementation of the Affordable Care Act to generate momentum for the eventual transition to a Single Payer System.
6. Address Institutionalized Racial Injustice
● The U.S. has the highest incarceration rates in the world, and the laws that lead to incarceration are enforced in a racially biased manner.
● I support numerous reforms in this area, including: (a) the use of drug courts to allow low-level drug crime violators to move into treatment programs rather than prison; (b) the repeal of mandatory sentencing guidelines; (c) the expanded use of prison education and rehabilitation programs; (e) the use of parole and effective re-entry programs; (f) implementing “ban the box” to reduce discrimination against those with criminal records in the hiring process; and (g) banning the use of private contractors for the operation of both prisons and detention centers.
7. Reform Campaign Finance, Voter Registration Policy and Local Elections
● I strongly support the repeal of the Citizens United decision, which gives excessive political influence to corporations and interest groups, at the expense of the citizenry.
● I support automatic voter registration.
● I also support the move to district elections in municipalities statewide (patterned off of the successful Yakima model), in order to improve prospects for minority representation.
8. Fully Fund Transportation
● It is imperative to increase investment in transit. Accordingly, I support Sound Transit III, despite its high cost and tax impact.
9. Pass Common Sense Gun Control
● I support a full range of commonsense gun control measures: bans on certain categories of weapons (e.g., semi-automatic assault rifles); waiting periods; background checks (and I supported I-594 to close the gun show loophole); trigger locks and other fire suppression methods; safe storage; etc.
10. Improve Housing Affordability
● Seattle and other parts of the state are facing a crisis of housing affordability. It is critical to address this challenge in a manner that addresses the needs of lower-income communities. I have written on Seattle's Housing Crisis: Seattle's Housing Crisis and the City's Future (August, 2015).
● I support expanded use of developer fees (e.g., impact fees, mandatory inclusionary zoning, linkage fees, etc.) to finance affordable housing, as well as a range of other policy, from an expanded housing levy to tenant protections.