If our state doesn’t generate additional new sources of revenue, it will not be able to maintain existing investments in schools, public health, and other essential programs over the long term. This is according to the November revenue forecast. What’s more, the four-year budget outlook shows that our state will be facing a nearly $500 million budget shortfall by 2019.
The revenue forecast did show some welcome news in the form of increased revenue, primarily from home sales and marijuana revenue – an additional $101 million for the remainder of the 2015-2017 biennium, and $25 million more in 2017-2019. However, state resources continue to fall far below what’s actually needed to fund high-quality K-12 education, as required by the Supreme Court’s McCleary ruling. That’s not even taking into consideration the continued funding needed for other important state investments.
To top it off, the forecast doesn’t factor in the potential havoc that Initiative I-1366 would wreak on state spending if the Supreme Court upholds the initiative’s constitutionality. The recently passed Tim Eyman ballot initiative seeks to force the Legislature to adopt a two-thirds majority to raise taxes; if it doesn't, the state sales tax will be cut by a full percentage point. At a time when our state needs continued investments in education, firefighting resources, affordable housing, and more, such a sharp drop in the sales tax rate would eliminate $1.5 billion in tax resources that support these investments in the current budget cycle. That amount would rise to nearly $3 billion in lost resources in future budget cycles, according to the state Office of Financial Management.
The recent forecast and the threat of I-1366 loom large for the people and economy of Washington state. With state resources barely bouncing back to pre-recession levels, our ability to make progress on essential investments continues to be hindered by an upside-down revenue system that disproportionally relies on people with the lowest incomes to pay into.
The children, families, and communities of Washington state deserve a revenue system that provides a foundation of equal opportunity so everyone can thrive. The only way to get there is to fix our broken revenue system with common sense reform – like through a capital gains tax, the closure of wasteful tax breaks, and a tax structure that isn’t rigged in favor of the wealthy.
While it’s certainly a small step forward to have some additional revenue in our state budget, it’s not nearly enough for Washington state to reach its full potential. More investments are required to ensure we can be a place where everyone has the opportunity to get ahead and to live in safe, healthy, thriving communities.
Have you been trying to decide whether to attend our Budget Matters 2015 Policy Summit? Well, let us tell you all the reasons you should!
[Click on image to enlarge.]
Still not sure? What if we tell you that scholarships and discounted group rates are available? Buy your tickets now! You won't regret it.
And find out more about the summit -- including who our fantastic panelists are -- here.
The Budget & Policy Center welcomed economic justice advocate Misha Werschkul as its new leader in September. Misha, a long-time collaborator with our organization, has made a career out of building coalitions in support of progressive statewide campaigns in Washington. We talked with her about what she brings to the Center, what's in store under her leadership, and much more.
What makes you most excited about working here?
The team! I have been fortunate to partner with the talented Budget & Policy Center staff on a range of campaigns for nearly a decade. I am so impressed by their strategic insight and their passion for the work they do. They produce meaningful, credible research and they are responsible for making major contributions to advance innovative policies. I’m truly honored to now be part of this team that has such an impact on Washington’s families and communities.
What role do you think the Budget & Policy Center plays in shaping the policy debates in this state?
The Budget & Policy Center is the organization in Washington that is pushing for policymakers and influencers to keep the focus on the long term. Throughout my time in Washington state’s policy arena, I have become ever more aware of the need for long-term reforms in our state – especially around the revenue policies that shape our state economy. The Center’s ability to focus on a big picture while building alliances is so unique. And it’s a much-needed voice in the public policy debates.
How do you hope to build on this long-term focus and vision?
My primary goal with the Budget & Policy Center is to build on our already considerable strengths. To help make our voice even stronger and increase our impact. Our team’s research and policy expertise – in areas including helping hardworking families get ahead, promoting public engagement in budget and policy matters, and making sure the state raises the revenue it needs equitably – combined with their strategic communications, advocacy, and outreach efforts are helping set our state on a path toward shared prosperity.
What are your most pressing priorities?
I will be devoting much of my time in my first six months toward deepening relationships with and getting to know the many people who help make this organization so strong – its staff, board, supporters, community partners, policymakers, and the like. I will be asking lots of questions to better understand the needs and priorities of this organization’s many partners and allies.
I am also excited about our fourth annual Budget Matters event on December 9. This half-day summit will feature keynote speaker Patrisse Cullors from #BlackLivesMatter and spotlight the need to make sure there’s a racial justice focus in policymaking. It’s so clear we are long overdue in changing the policies that have played a role in allowing racial inequities to persist in everything from income to incarceration rates. Advancing racial equity has been a strategic priority for the Center for some time. This summit is a reflection of our commitment to providing a forum for a wide range of communities to contribute to the ongoing dialogue about disparities in our public policies – and to discuss the steps we must take to start making things right.
And of course, I intend to support the priorities that the Center’s staff are currently working on. Right now that includes playing a key role in challenging Tim Eyman’s Initiative 1366, continuing to lead in efforts to lift Washingtonians out of poverty, and making plans to use the 2016 legislative session to show how important it is for government to invest in schools, safe communities, and other building blocks of economic growth.
What made you interested in pursuing public policy as a career?
I grew up in a politically aware family and was raised from an early age to see the connection between public policy decisions and quality of life for my family. That I was able to breathe clean air, attend public school, and hike and boat on the beautiful Rogue River in Oregon was all a result of public policy decisions. My parents taught me that grassroots advocacy and good political leaders played a key role in helping provide pathways to opportunities for my generation and future generations. So when it came time for me to choose a college major, it was a no-brainer to study political science and economics. I have been fortunate to devote my career to advancing economic policies that make people’s lives better and our communities stronger.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I love living in the Puget Sound, where my husband, Josh, and I can easily get out to the mountains for hiking or camping in the summer and skiing in the winter. When the sun is shining closer to home, you might find me walking around the Columbia City neighborhood, running around Seward Park, paddleboarding on Lake Washington, and growing vegetables in my neighborhood p-patch. These days, we are also spending a lot of our free time preparing the house for our first child, who we’re excited to welcome in early February.
What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
I grew up in a town with fewer than 100 residents in southwest Oregon called Agness and attended school in a one-room schoolhouse. My life looks a lot different these days, but I do try to keep to my rural roots by raising chickens and doing that gardening as much as possible!
Any final thoughts?
I hope to see and meet lots of new Budget & Policy Center friends on December 9 at our Budget Matters Summit!
Contact Misha at mishaw(at)budgetandpolicy.dot.org, 206.262.0973, ext. 222.
Our new infographic on Initiative 1366 provides a snapshot of how Tim Eyman’s ballot initiative would hurt Washingtonians. I-1366 is the serial initiative promoter’s most recent attempt to strong-arm our elected officials into handing even more political power over to corporate lobbyists and political extremists in Washington state.
If approved by voters on the November ballot, I-1366 would force lawmakers – under threat of deep cuts to funding for health care, public safety, higher education, and other important investments – to pass a constitutional amendment requiring a two-thirds “supermajority” vote of the Legislature in order to enact any tax increase.
A supermajority vote requirement would grant veto power over all state tax and budget decisions to as few as 17 Washington state senators (of 147 total legislators). This would make it virtually impossible to close wasteful corporate tax breaks, fully fund court-mandated improvements to schools, and reform our state’s deeply inequitable tax system.
See for yourself why I-1366 is not a good choice for our state and its people by clicking on the image below.
And read our previous analyses of how I-1366 would undercut democracy and harm future generations of Washingtonians:
- Eyman Initiative Aims to Create Endless Gridlock
- Efforts Underway to Block Eyman Blackmail Initiative
- I-1366 Lawsuit Headed to Washington State Supreme Court
- Battle Over I-1366 Shifts To November Ballot
While it’s good news that the new Census reports show that the number of Washingtonians living in poverty declined between 2013 and 2014, the data still doesn’t tell the whole story. Far too many Washingtonians are struggling to make ends meet. And this is happening in a landscape in which the top income earners in our state continue to benefit the most from the economic recovery. Policymakers must make investments in an economy that works for all Washingtonians – one in which people who work for a living are able to get ahead, not just get by.
The newly released Census data for Washington state shows (see more in fact sheet below):
- More than one in eight people (13.2 percent) live below the poverty line. This is down from 14.1 percent in 2013. For a family of three, the poverty line is defined as earning less than $19,790 per year.
- Child poverty declined to 17.5 percent after remaining stagnant last year. The share of children under five living in poverty remained unchanged at 19 percent.
- Although median household income technically increased between 2013 and 2014, when adjusted for inflation and the rising cost of basic needs, median annual household income has actually declined by more than $2,000 since 2007.
(Click on graphic to view full fact sheet)
Washington state’s economy is stronger when everyone has the opportunity to prosper. Working people should not have to struggle to provide for their families while the wealthy keep getting richer. When workers are paid well, are able to take time off when they are sick, and have the peace of mind that their children are receiving quality child care, their economic well-being improves. Policies like raising the minimum wage, ensuring workers have paid sick and safe leave, and expanding access to quality early learning also help to level the playing field for communities of color and women who are least likely to have access to these resources.
Policymakers can and must take steps to ensure that all Washingtonians benefit from growth in our economy. They must also recognize that they can’t rest on their laurels because the poverty numbers appear to be going down. The big picture must always be front of mind. And the big picture is that what it actually takes for families in Washington to scrape by is much higher than the federal poverty line – which is $19,790 for a family of three (1).
Washington should be a state in which its people are thriving, and certainly not one in which so many are barely getting by.
1. Based on DSHS 2014 poverty guidelines for a family of 3.
Thanks to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), 300,000 additional Washingtonians are now able to see a doctor when they need to. That’s equivalent to almost the entire population of the cities of Everett and Tacoma combined. This is according to a new U.S. Census report which shows an overall 5 percent increase in the number of people in our state who have obtained health coverage since 2013.
Washington state’s decision to embrace Medicaid expansion is a major reason for the increase in people covered, and it was an important step in the right direction for advancing the health of Washington’s residents.
Today, 91 percent of all Washingtonians, and 95 percent of children, are able to see a doctor, go to the hospital, or fill a prescription when they need to. Washington state mirrors the national trend, which showed a historic rise in the number of people with health care coverage.
The Census report contains the first data to show the initial impact – and clear success – of the expansion of health care coverage under the ACA. In fact, nationally, the 25 states (including the District of Columbia) that expanded Medicaid by the January 2014 deadline had much larger increases in health care coverage than states that did not expand the program.
Stay tuned as we continue to provide further details on health insurance trends in Washington state, as well as on new poverty and income data to be released by the U.S. Census.
When the Census releases new data next week about the poverty rates in our state, it is important to understand that the numbers don't tell the whole story. While the poverty rate is useful to track, the sad reality is that there are far more Washingtonians struggling to become economically secure than the numbers reflect.
In fact, as the interactive map shows below, the income required for people to barely scrape by is a lot higher than the income that is considered the poverty line. A family of three in Washington state needs to earn between $48,121 and $61,989 per year depending on where they live in order to afford the basic necessities – in other words, between two and three times the federal poverty line of $19,790 (1).
Click on or hover over the map below for more detailed information.
Indeed, despite improving employment numbers, many Washingtonians are still having difficulty putting food on the table or a roof over their head through no fault of their own (as last year's Census data demonstrated). So while the focus next week will be on poverty, policymakers should nevertheless focus on creating policies that focus on more than just the numbers reflected by the Census poverty line. They must find solutions that take into account what it really takes for families to make ends meet in our state.
Stay tuned to hear our take on the new numbers out next week and policies to support the economic security of all families in Washington state. And click here to learn more about the MIT Living Wage Calculator.
(1) Living wage and typical family expenses based on the MIT Living Wage Calculator