A state budget is an expression of our choices. Right now, Washington faces some big ones. What do we choose: Do we want to keep kids from going to school hungry, and help seniors stay safely in their own homes? Or do we want to enrich the few at the expense of the many?
For far too long, our budget choices have done the latter. Six hundred and forty tax loopholes and preferences, many of which don’t serve the public interest, have evaded state budget writers’ red pens. Vital services for kids and elders have not. Combined with the Great Recession, those loopholes have prompted $10.6 billion in cuts over the past five years — cuts that have hurt young and old.
These loopholes not only drain our tax base and hurt our families, but they encourage a divisive struggle of the young vs. the old, the poor vs. the sick — a false conflict that inflicts further harm on those already hurt.
There are better alternatives. Gov. Jay Inslee has singled out for elimination 10 tax loopholes that are less important than the health of our kids, our families and our economy. The House of Representatives has followed suit with its own approach to eliminate 15 tax loopholes that would otherwise cost us $751 million over the next two years.
Gov. Inslee and the House are on the right path.
Our two organizations advocate for the interests of people of very different ages. But seniors and children are fellow travelers through life’s most vulnerable moments. When the path gets rough, it’s only natural to hold hands.
Kids count on the adults in their lives for love and protection. Seniors treasure their connections to the young and want the best for them. And they’re both set to pass some unprecedented milestones.
By 2030, the number of Washingtonians over 65 will grow to 20 percent — 1 in 5 — up dramatically from today’s numbers: 1 in 8. This age wave is both an opportunity and a challenge.
It’s an amazing thing that people can reasonably expect to continue enriching our state’s civic fabric 20 to 30 years past the traditional retirement age of 65. And it will be a challenge to meet the growing health and long-term care needs of tomorrow’s retirees.
At the same time, our state’s child population is undergoing a demographic shift of its own: children of color are on their way to constituting a majority of those 18 and under.
All children, but particularly children of color, are threatened by an opportunity gap obstructing their path to the kind of future we all want for them. An investment strategy in health care, food and nutrition programs and early learning can help kids cross that gap. It’s not just the right thing to do — it aligns with our constitutional duty to give our children the opportunity to succeed.
Failed way of thinking
We can’t rise to these occasions without a bold approach to tax revenue — something that the governor and the House budget writers should be applauded for doing. The Senate budget, in its reliance on unsustainable fund transfers and harmful cuts, exemplifies the failed way of thinking. It takes a smart, bold step towards feeding hungry families by partially restoring State Food Assistance, yet it shortchanges dedicated grandparents raising their own grandkids through the Kinship Caregiver program. When seniors and children are made to face off in a race for scarce dollars, the only winners are the special-interest tax loopholes watching from the sidelines.
Lawmakers should know: families need a new approach. Don’t set our kids against their struggling grandparents. Negotiate a budget agreement that ends tax loopholes we can no longer afford and renew existing taxes so we can fund education, protect the most vulnerable and put our state on the path towards a sustainable recovery and healthy future for all.