By Adaora Ugwueze / For The Herald
During middle school, I moved from an underfunded school system to a very wealthy community in the suburbs.
My old school kept us in an overcrowded building that had not been refurbished since the 1970s, only offered one language choice, and served refried beans to us as lunch. My new school had an elevator, three different language class options, and nourishing school lunches; we even had pho for lunch one day. I remember thinking, “these children are being given the times of their lives!” It was my first glimpse at how different education can look when rich parents’ taxes are funding our services.
Unfortunately, the rich people in our state rarely distribute their wealth beyond their insular communities. This year, we have a chance to change that.
Senate Bill 5486 and its companion, House Bill 1473, would create a wealth tax in Washington; a 1 percent tax on those who are hoarding more than $250 million in financial property, such as stocks and bonds. This small tax on only the wealthiest Washingtonians would raise more than $3 billion a year to fund education, as well as disability services, affordable housing and tax credits for working families.
As a young, Black woman learning to navigate the world of Washington advocacy, I encounter many people in my communities who do not understand the importance of how we tax and fund our programs. How do you even visualize having $250 million or more in assets?
The bottom line is this: the ultra-wealthy are ripping us off. Even though they have unimaginable wealth, the crazy-rich people of Washington pay a much smaller share (about six times less) of their incomes into the taxes that fund our schools and communities. Because we have this tax inequality, we are being robbed of an alternate reality where it is possible to achieve wealth equity, a good quality of life and happiness for everyone.
Before I began my current role with the advocacy group Washington Bus, I was an intern at TeamChild, which helps youth from lower economic backgrounds get access to legal representation and pursue their education. Our current education system fails many of these students, and they end up in the school-to-prison pipeline, especially if they are Black, brown, or disabled.
An increase in revenue of $3 billion every year from the wealth tax would make an immeasurable difference. If these children could have the same resources as children from privileged backgrounds, every one of them could excel at school and get the services we all need to focus on our studies. It would help families as well; a lot of working class parents are facing pressure from many fronts, and do not have the resources to advocate for children at school.
A wealth tax could change life right now for me and a lot of people in my community. As a student, I know that college is unaffordable for most, and cost of living is rising and rising. For many of us students, it’s becoming hard to predict whether we are going to have housing in the next month. Multiple friends of mine have faced the possibility of living in their cars after being kicked out by their parents or facing issues at home.
That $3 billion could solve so many of these struggles we are facing. Immigrant parents like mine want to take care of their children and secure housing. College students want to achieve our goals and dreams without a life of debt. Disabled people want to finally get the accessibility they need.
As young people, we need to be aware that we are going to be the most affected by the injustice now. And as young people, change will be ushered in by us, as it’s been throughout history.
Not understanding how to make a change can rob you of the political power you have. Getting involved in legislative action is so easy; all you have to do is look up the bill number and take 10 seconds to email your state legislators or talk to them directly.
No matter how shielded you think you are from the effects, every student who has attended school, tried to find housing or depended on a public service is going to be affected by the decisions we make now. If we want a brighter day for tomorrow, we need to join in together on this action.
Adaora Ugwueze is an advocate for racial and economic justice at The Washington Bus and a student studying global and regional studies at the University of Washington. Ugwueze lives in Bothell.
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