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Observations on an income tax, state auditing, and irony

Senator Rosa Franklin recently penned an editorial in the Kitsap Sun explaining why we need an income tax. While I’m philosophically opposed to an income tax, I wholeheartedly agree that major tax reform is needed in this state.

In spite of our $9+ billion deficit, the state doesn’t have a revenue problem. It has a spending problem. Even in this dismal economy, according to its own numbers, the state will take in substantially more in this biennium than it did in the previous one. Meanwhile, it still spends more than it’s taking in.

Meanwhile, legislators threaten to cut things that really matter, like funding for public health and safety, so they can intimidate and scare us into agreeing to approve even more taxes, while preserving — and expanding — absurd regulatory programs.

Why not try trimming the taxes and onerous regulations that impede the ability of businesses to be successful and create private sector jobs? The overburdening regulation we put up in this state has spawned massive, and questionably effective enforcement bureaucracies that have an unending appetite for more and more of our tax dollars. These regulations also put us at a serious competitive disadvantage in relation to neighboring states like Idaho.

L&I is a perfect example. It’s sitting on billions of reserve dollars, yet it can’t to enforce many of the laws already on the books — such as contractor licensing — while still trying to dictate ever-more restrictive work practices demanded by organized labor — things like its ill-advised ergonomics and blatantly featherbedding heat stress rules for example.

DOE is another example of a gigantic, out of control state bureaucracy that just keeps growing in size, as well as power over our lives. Just ask Miller Brewing. After spending millions several years back to purify water it was releasing, a DOE staffer was attributed with the infamous and somewhat widely reported statement that the water, “…may be good enough for people to drink, but it’s not good enough for the fish.”

Miller’s response: Close the iconic 100-year old brewery, and send its 400 family wage jobs out of state.

Cutting spending for this kind of idiocy would also mean trimming many of those 18,000 or so state employees that have been hired by the Locke and Gregoire administrations. Do the math. At an approximate average salary of $62,000 each , this alone would have a major positive impact on the budget. The problem is, so many of our Legislators — not to mention the Governor — are held hostage by the campaign contributions they accept from the powerful state employee unions.

The bottom line: Legislators have blatantly flaunted the will of the voters for so long, so many times, over so many issues , that voters simply have no trust in them to do what’s right for the people — not just the special interests that bankroll their re-election.

If people believed that future Legislatures wouldn’t break the promise to the voters not to raise or re-impose taxes that would either be reduced or eliminated if an income tax were enacted, it might have some credibility. The problem is, the Legislature has proven time and again that we can’t trust its word when it comes to taxes and spending. Voters are simply unwilling to take a chance future Legislatures won’t decide to increase their already heavy tax burden by refusing to rein in spending. Based on the Legislature’s track record over the past two decades, can you blame them?

More proof of why voters don’t trust the Legislature and why we don’t need higher taxes but less spending, comes in the form of a proposed legislative measure attempting to take half the money from State Auditor Brian Sonntag’s office and use it for other agencies and projects. Hard to believe, I know, but Sonntag, who keeps getting re-elected by huge margins, is perhaps this state’s most trusted elected official — more trusted than even our Governor. Imagine…

Sonntag’s performance audit program has proven to save taxpayers $10 for every tax dollar his department spends doing its job. Watching our tax dollars so diligently — which was mandated by statewide public initiative — has naturally made Sonntag less than the most popular guy at agencies like WSDOT, the Port of Seattle, my personal favorite, Sound Transit, as well as most other public and quasi-public agencies. It’s also no big secret that powerful public-employee union and education lobbyists strongly resent his watchdog approach to wasteful spending.

From the “Is the irony of this lost on anyone? Department comes this news flash. Thirteen years after DOE found a creek severely polluted, the contamination was traced back to the agency’s own regional office. City workers in Vancouver discovered that a sewer line from the building housing the regional offices of DOE, the Department of Fish and Game, and a small Army Corps of Engineers office, was mistakenly connected to a storm water runoff system, rather than a municipal sewer main back when the building was constructed in the 1970s.

As a result, sewage from the building has been entering Burnt Bridge Creek and eventually Vancouver Lake for an unknown number of years.

Although the leased building has changed hands several times, City officials agreed to fix the problem immediately — at the current building owner’s expense.

Go figure…

Lary Coppola's picture
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