Tax loopholes are letting needed money get away

  • By Jamie Roesler and Vanessa Patricelli
  • Friday, April 12, 2013 4:47pm
  • OpinionCommentary

As a teacher and a nurse, we work in different professions but we both know well our state’s obligation to fund core services like education and health care for the poor, the elderly, and people with disabilities. Yet, cuts over the last several years have eroded these core services. It’s time for the legislature to stop backsliding on these priorities and instead move us forward by ending some of the more than 640 tax loopholes that put special interests before our kids’ education or our patients’ health.

Our state’s budget reality is stark: we face a $1.3 billion budget shortfall even before we invest the billions in additional funds we need to bring our schools up to mandated standards. For years we’ve tried to make up our shortfall by cutting services, but that approach is neither sustainable nor an acceptable way to meet our state’s needs.

It’s time for us to make some tough choices and close the gap. We need to return to a state budget that meets our responsibilities to our children and our communities, and we need to fund it in a way that reflects our state’s values.

Governor Inslee took a tough look at our budget to try to find a way to improve our schools, ensure needed healthcare services, and maintain public infrastructure. The best way he found to meet all of our state’s needs is to close some tax loopholes.

The Governor has found that our state can make up $565 million of our shortfall by ending or reducing existing tax breaks. Plus, we can recover an additional $660 million by continuing a business &occupation surcharge paid by doctors, lawyers, accountants, and others, and a 50 cent per gallon beer tax that are already on the books. Budget writers in the House made a similar loophole closure proposal last week. It’s a good start, but it’s not nearly enough.

A flood of tax breaks clog our tax code and undermine our state budget. The proliferation of these loopholes has gotten out of control. Many breaks have been in place for decades, don’t meet their stated public goals, and have never been reviewed to see if they still make sense. A bipartisan legislative review committee has found dozens of tax breaks that they have targeted for elimination, but heavy lobbying by the powerful interests who benefit has kept the legislature from ending them. These breaks continue to cost taxpayers hundreds of millions in annual revenue that would be better spent on education and health care.

We can’t let a few powerful lobbyists stand in the way of improving schools and providing needed healthcare. As the Supreme Court has ruled, we must stop ignoring our constitutional duty to fund education. The choice to have a strong public education isn’t just good for our children; it is good for all of us. It is necessary to train our future workforce if Washington’s economy is going to thrive. Our economy relies on high tech jobs and high paying salaries—we can’t continue to fall behind on the need to educate future tech workers.

Yet, we need to resist the urge to rob Peter to pay Paul — we can’t simply cut our way out of the problem. It is time to try a different approach. Eliminating costly tax loopholes is a good start.

It’s difficult to explain to our students and patients why there just isn’t funding to meet the need. It’s sad to think that right now, we’re in effect making special interests a higher priority than our children or vital health services. Handing special interests cash from our state’s coffers while other needed public services languish is not the way to go.

While the choice should be easy, we all know that the corporate special interests that benefit from these loopholes will fight against closing them. It’s up to us to make sure that legislators hear from the people who live in their communities. They need to hear from all of us.

The recent proposals to close loopholes will prevent draconian cuts to the critical community services that have already been slashed. We need to cut loopholes, not services, and understand that additional reforms will be needed in the future to fix our broken revenue system. Now is the time to make the right choice for the future of our state.

Jamie Roesler is a third-grade teacher in the Snohomish School District. Vanessa Patricelli is a registered nurse who lives in Lake Stevens.

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