(This guest Slog post is by Paul Guppy, vice president of research for the Washington Policy Center. More info about Prop 1 in the voters' guide is here.)
Okay, the sales tax is the most regressive and unfair tax in King County, so let’s make it higher. That’s the position of County Executive Dow Constantine and the majority on the county council in putting Proposition 1 on the ballot. They want people to vote for a tax increase or they threaten to make the county less safe by cutting policing and court services.
Proposition 1 would make the county’s tax system more regressive by increasing the sales tax to 9.7 percent, making everything from overcoats to underpants cost more. That would give Seattle the 7th highest sales tax in the country. The sales tax hits poor people hardest because the poor have to spend more—or all—of their money meeting day-to-day expenses, while the rich spend a tiny fraction of their income on daily needs.
Elected officials say they’ve cut and cut and there’s just no more to cut. But in his latest budget Executive Constantine plans to increase county spending by about 3 percent, to $5.1 billion a year.
Where’s that money going? A lot is going to pay for essential services—grea—but a lot is going to low priority stuff like $368,000 to lobby the federal government, $426,000 for county memberships and dues, $1.7 million on weed (the kind in your lawn) control and $4 million to run the Elliot Bay water taxi.
Sure, a lot of things are nice to have, like spending $1.4 million on staff planning, but are they really more important than keeping neighborhoods safe? Some people don’t like having a lot of cops around. Fair enough. But when you or one of your friends is about to become crime victim, you want a cop to show up fast.
A lot of it is going to nice salaries and benefits to some folks on the county payroll. More than 1,400 county workers make over $100,000 a year. Average pay for Metro drivers is $61,000. Metro salaries have increased 38 percent since 2000, and the County is giving Metro employees a healthy 4 percent raise. At the same time a lot of folks are laid off, or can’t get a job in the first place, but they still have to pay sales tax whenever they buy something.
I could moan all day about how the gummint wastes our money, but the failure of elected officials to set clear priorities and responsibly manage $5.1 billion is not really the point. The real point is this: Proposition 1 hits us with a regressive tax increase in the middle of a recession. Bottom line: Prop. 1 would make people who are unemployed and under-employed pay more, so people who already have good jobs can get a raise, all while adding to the inequity of our tax system.