Given the near-unanimity at the Town hall the other day on the issue of taxes, and in answer to your questions, I thought I’d share a little scuttlebutt on the issue. There is some statewide polling going on now on the issue of taxes, given the clear push to send a tax package to the voters along with a “No New Taxes” version of the budget. As I explained on Saturday, the feeling here is that we should actually have an all-cuts budget in effect for the period from July 1, 2009 (the beginning of the 2009-11 biennium) until the tax-package is adopted by the voters, presumably in November 2009. Sad to say, but some voters need to actually experience for a few months what that budget would do to them before they understand the need for taxes. In fact, a dose of reality may be what it takes to rid the state of the mentality that Tim Eyman so easily exploits.
The questions, then, are what kinds of taxes (or better, taxing whom?) and how much. These will be the central policy questions before the Ways and Means Committees in both houses, and I will have a voice in the debate in the Senate committee. The statewide polling is being done by progressive interest groups, not the caucus, and the data apparently—this is still rumor here—show some bare majority for a generalized “tax increase” up to $1.5 billion statewide. This apparently doesn’t differentiate between the types of taxes, apparently a very preliminary poll that will pave the way for another with more sophisticated questions. The polling data won’t illuminate a better policy, but our job is not getting the best possible package—it’s getting the best possible package that the voters will approve. With that as our goal, we need to listen to the voters before, not just after, we put a referendum out there for them to vote on.
I understand that there will be a motion to pass a resolution at the next full meeting of the 37th District Democrats, asking the three of us legislators to vote only for a budget or referendum that fills half the $9 billion hole with a tax increase or series of tax increases—that is, $4.5 billion in taxes. I don’t know whether the proposal would differentiate between forms of taxation. Personally, speaking only for myself, I would be okay with a $4.5 biennial tax increase if the thrust were to tax the discretionary income of the wealthy, who have escaped state taxation almost entirely since the repeal of the MVET in 1999, and who have never had to pay a state income tax. But the preliminary polling data is that the state’s voters aren’t at $4.5 billion, but only at one-third of that. We can (and may) set the referendum amount slightly higher, but we will do so at the peril of getting a No vote, and having to wait several months before we can get another referendum out, as we’ve done with a series of transportation referenda. That exercise reduced public faith in the process, not to mention delayed funding transportation while costs rose. I suggest we act responsibly, especially while we have the entire state living under the all-cuts version of the budget. While I may end up voting for taxes greater in revenue than $1.5 billion, I will keep an eye on a successful referendum, rather than simply go for the highest possible amount.
Please feel free to pass this e-mail to residents of the 37th, and to members of the 37th District Democrats. Thanks