This legislative session, nothing is more important than ensuring that all Washington state families have the opportunity to get ahead. That means investing in our schools, roads and other resources that strengthen families, businesses and our economy.
We simply can’t do that without more revenue, despite the wishful thinking of some lawmakers and opinion leaders.
Washington state has been on a starvation diet for far too long, and the results are devastating. Instead of helping to keep people on their feet during the Great Recession and the painfully slow recovery, lawmakers have cut billions in the past four years from education, transportation, job training and other essential services that strengthen families and provide a foundation for a strong economy. As a result, college is less affordable, our transportation system is crumbling and more families are struggling to meet their basic needs.
The failure to invest in our communities has put the brakes on the economic recovery and stifled opportunity for Washington state’s families. This is particularly true for communities of color that face higher unemployment and are disproportionately harmed by cuts to services.
It’s time for a new approach that grows the economy by investing in people so that they can reach their full potential. When people have what they need to get ahead — not just get by — the middle class grows because families have more to spend, businesses have more customers, and entrepreneurs can take a chance on the next big idea. To get there, we must:
Ensure adequate revenue. Washington state doesn’t have the resources necessary to invest in good schools, early education for most children and a strong, skilled workforce. Despite claims by the Senate Majority Coalition, echoed by some newspapers, we can’t strengthen these vital foundations of a strong economy without more revenue. And, budget gimmicks and transfers are not a recipe for sustainability.
A good place to start would be getting rid of costly tax breaks that benefit a few profitable corporations or wealthy individuals and fail to generate jobs or other investments, like the research and development business and occupation tax credit for high-tech firms. Those resources could be better spent in ways that benefit all Washingtonians.
Provide opportunity for all. Education funding gets a lot of attention, and rightfully so — the state legislature must provide $2.3 billion for K-12 education as a result of the Supreme Court’s decision in the McCleary case. Improving our schools should be a top priority for the legislature. Continuous improvement and more revenue must go hand in hand.
A number of other crucial areas also need to be adequately funded, such as pre-kindergarten education, which has proven to be a key to success later in life. Currently, just 1 percent of state spending is invested in early learning, and just three of every 10 children between the ages of 3 and 4 are enrolled in a preschool program, one of the worst rates in the country. We can do better. Furthermore, we must address the disparities in learning and access to opportunities that are leaving too many low-income students and students of color behind.
Ensure economic security. As our economy slowly recovers, we’re replacing the thousands of middle-class jobs we lost during the recession with mostly low-wage service jobs. At the same time, lawmakers have slashed funding for subsidized child care, job training, and career services. This has put a major squeeze on families trying to get by in low-wage jobs while looking for opportunities to climb into the middle class. Increasing the minimum wage, combined with paid sick leave, affordable, high-quality child care and health care would make more families economically secure. These policies are not only good for families; they benefit the economy by strengthening our workforce.
The new year is the perfect occasion to take stock and prioritize our needs. We can have a first-class state if we take the steps necessary to ensure economic growth and prosperity for all.
Remy Trupin is the executive director of the Washington State Budget &Policy Center, a research organization that focuses on the prosperity of all Washingtonians.