Commentary: An open letter to the citizens of Washington state to help protect public services

Sen. Paull Shin

By Sen. Paull Shin, D–Edmonds
For Northwest Asian Weekly

My fellow citizens, I write to you today about a revenue proposal that could help protect public services that we all rely on.

As you know, we are dragging ourselves out of the deepest recession this country has ever seen. My first day in the legislature was almost two decades ago, so I remember well how many times you have heard the cries from us down in Olympia about the deep and painful cuts we have been forced to make to government services.

The past several sessions have been particularly bad. Every year, it seems as though the citizens of this state continue to hear about cuts, cuts, and more cuts. But my friends, as we know, there comes a time when the granaries really are empty. We have reached that point. We are not just selling off the grain anymore, we are selling off the farm.

I have lived in Washington state for 43 years, and I have never seen times like these. In those 43 years, I have come to know Washingtonians as people who care for their brothers and sisters. My friends, our brothers and our sisters, our children, and our grandparents are suffering. Our children’s health insurance is disappearing, our seniors’ fixed incomes are shrinking, our poor are sleeping under bridges in the cold, and our schools are losing money, while the cost of universities skyrockets and our students graduate with impossible debt.

I spent my childhood living on the streets in Korea. I slept under bridges and in train stations, and I ate my meals out of garbage cans. Believe me when I say that I know what these cuts are doing to our people.

As an American, and as a Washingtonian, I, for one, cannot stand idly by while our citizens are sleeping in the streets, while our seniors and disabled are dying in their homes without proper care. Folks, we find ourselves in an emergency, and we must act boldly if we are to act at all.

Without comprehensive tax reform, the only tool that Washington has to raise the serious revenue we need is the state sales and use tax.

I have proposed a bill that would temporarily raise that tax by 1 percent. We have already written a budget that cuts almost $5 billion. It was our constitutional requirement. But I am here to tell you that I cannot live with such a budget. When I have known the suffering of hunger, and have lived through the cold of homelessness, how can I condemn my brothers and sisters out into the cold to suffer the same?

Many of my colleagues have also proposed important steps to review and reduce preferential taxes throughout our state. While important, these proposals would at most raise revenue less than one tenth of the $4.8 billion in cuts this budget proposes. A one percent increase in our sales tax would raise more than $2 billion. I believe that almost $3 billion in cuts, combined with $2 billion in revenue represents a more balanced approach to our budget.

I want to be clear that I am not an advocate for the sales tax. But last November, Washingtonians rejected an income tax proposal, so the sales tax is all we have.

My proposal is a temporary emergency increase only that is written to automatically expire after the 2011–13 biennium. It also expires automatically if the unemployment rate drops to 5 percent before we get there. I know well that the sales tax hits those in need the hardest. But these may be the very people who will likely benefit from the money raised.

This is a small increase for each of us individually, but together, as a united family, we as Washingtonians can live in the kind of world we have come to expect of our great state in the Pacific Northwest. ♦

Sen. Shin can be reached at shin.paull@leg.wa.gov.

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