Who says we need a tax increase?

The following op-ed appeared in the Prosser Record-Bulletin and the Dayton Chronicle the week of April 1.

By Sen. Maureen Walsh

Something seems to be missing this year in the Washington Legislature as legislative Democrats seek the biggest tax increase in Washington history. Where’s the explanation?

There’s no financial crisis. There’s no emergency. Tax collections are at an all-time high. We have enough money to continue doing everything the state is currently doing, cover inflation, meet every legal obligation – and still have a couple billion dollars left over. Yet the Democrats who control the Legislature this year say it still isn’t enough.

This year’s budget debate will be one of the strangest we have ever seen. 

We aren’t exactly hurting for money. We are rolling in cash. For this next budget we will have a record $50.6 billion in tax collections. That’s $5 billion more than we had two years ago, the last time we wrote a budget.

But proposals released last week by the Democrats in the House and Senate take that $50 billion and keep right on going. The Senate Democrats want $52 billion and the House Democrats want $53 billion. They want Washington taxpayers to make up the difference.

Their ideas include higher taxes on business and real estate transactions, and a brand-new income tax on capital gains that almost certainly would be expanded to a general income tax, once they find a way to get around the constitution. They’re working on that.

The whole idea leaves many of us shaking our heads in disbelief. A tax increase when the economy is as strong as it has ever been? When we really don’t need the money? When a tax hike might well slow down economic growth and kill the golden goose?

What we have witnessed since the end of the Great Recession is really an economic miracle. Tax collections have increased nearly $20 billion since 2013, a 45 percent increase at a time when Washington personal income grew only 22 percent. This money allowed us to satisfy the Supreme Court’s demand for a costly new school financing system. We did it without a tax increase. This restraint is one of the reasons we’re in such good shape today.

Now control of the Legislature has shifted to our Western Washington colleagues. This is the first budget session since 2007 that the Democrats have money to play with and enough votes to pass anything they wish. Our friends are brimming with bold ideas for new programs and new expenditures. Their leaders must satisfy constituencies that have been rebuffed for the last decade. And some of their members, particularly from urban areas, believe there is something wrong with our tax system. They think Washington just isn’t taxed heavily enough.

So we get spending proposals that are loaded with “nice-to-haves” that might easily be put off to the next budget, when we actually will have the money. We get proposals for new taxes that will burden the people of the state forever. We risk repeating the unsustainable spending that got us in so much trouble when the last recession hit. There are good people on both sides, and some will privately admit the danger of their approach. Our problem in Olympia this year is really one-party control, and a complete lack of balance.

Something tells me “it’s our turn” isn’t the kind of explanation that will sit well with the people of Washington. Bold ideas to improve government are well and fine, but you need to think about the taxpayers, too. Fifty billion really ought to be enough for anyone.