Step one: Check out this bit of leaked public opinion data, from an Elway poll conducted Dec. 2 - 5. While you're checking it out, keep in mind: This poll is from just a few weeks ago even though it's asking about the same type of high earners income tax that Bill Gates Sr. proposed, and voters rejected, back in November.
If the legislature placed on the ballot a constitutional amendment that would establish a higher earner tax on incomes above $200,000 for an individual and above $400,000 for a couple, with a constitutional guarantee that the tax could NOT be extended to people at lower incomes, how would you be likely to vote?
Probably NO...... 8%
That's 58 percent of Washington voters, a clear majority, supporting a high earners income tax if there's a constitutional guarantee that it won't be extended to people at lower incomes. (And the poll's cross-tabs show the idea has support across the political spectrum: from Democrats, Republicans, and Independents.)
Step two: When state legislators convene next week, they pay attention to the above polling data. (Not likely, I know, but given the size of the financial hole we're in it's worth imagining possibilities that no one currently thinks are possible.)
Here's what the polling data is telling lawmakers: Yes, back in November voters rejected Initiative 1098, the high earners income tax, because they worried it would be extended and become a tax on the income of lower earners, too. But if voters are assured that a new high earners income tax won't be extended beyond high earners—if the legislature offers voters a constitutional guarantee, which means a constitutional amendment saying the tax won't be extended to lower earners—if that happens, then 58 percent of voters are supportive of the idea.
Step three: State legislators pass the high earners income tax and a constitutional amendment that says it won't be extended to lower income earners. Yes, yes, there are huge political hurdles to doing this, plus huge procedural hurdles because of Tim Eyman's Initiative 1053, plus constitutional amendments have to be approved by a majority of voters. But look at the polling. A majority of voters do support this idea. More important, look at the math: The state's budget shortfall is currently $4.6 billion for the next two-year funding cycle. A high earners income tax, according to estimates from those who proposed the idea back in November, could bring in $2.3 billion annually.
$2.3 billion + $2.3 billion = $4.6 billion
That's the entire budget problem gone, in just two years.
So. There you have it. The state's money mess solved. It's a formula that's unlikely to be followed, I know, but it gets the job done without any cuts at all and it points out how easy it would be to make our state solvent... if only.