In the fall of 2015, Community Council of the Blue Mountain Region – in collaboration with Sherwood Trust, Walla Walla County Department of Community Health, and Blue Mountain Community Foundation – partnered with the Budget & Policy Center to launch a community-driven, results-focused process to create a more prosperous region. Now we are proud to release Building a Better Blue Mountain Region, a report summarizing this collaborative effort and highlighting a new, innovative way to support community-driven solutions.
The Blue Mountain Region includes Walla Walla and Columbia counties in Washington state and the northeastern part of Umatilla County in Oregon. It is home to a diverse and growing population and economy, and it is known for its higher education system, wineries, agriculture, and small-business community.
We used the Budget & Policy Center’s own Progress Index framework as a starting point for identifying local data that could tell a preliminary story about the region’s well-being. The story that emerged from the data revealed areas for improvement in the community as well as bright spots upon which to build. For example:
- The Blue Mountain Region ranks high for overall quality of life and has a strong healthcare infrastructure;
- Economic hardship is high throughout the region, especially among the Latino population, which is driving population growth;
- Among residents born outside of the United States, those who have obtained citizenship have greater economic security than residents who are non-citizens, and they have lower rates of economic hardship than their peers born in the United States; and
- Education outcomes – like kindergarten readiness, reading ability by the end of third grade, and high school graduation rates – vary considerably by race, ethnicity, and district/school, but many schools perform better than the state average on these important indicators, offering the opportunity to learn what is working for students.
Community Council and its partners used Budget & Policy Center data to hold two "data walks" – events where members of the community review and discuss what the data says about them – with Blue Mountain region residents. The attendees of these events were asked to discuss what the data in the infographics meant to them, answering the following questions: Does the data align with their understanding of the community? What conditions in the community explain why the data looks the way it does? How do residents want the story emerging from the data to change? And, what strengths does the community possess to change the story?
The conversations that took place during the data walks were dynamic and inspiring, giving Community Council insight into the ideas and aspirations of residents. It also gave the project partner organizations a better sense of the network of individuals and organizations they can tap into to achieve community-driven progress. [See pages 22-23 of the report for a summary of the data walk discussions.]
Thanks to feedback from the participants in the first data walk, project partners made the second data walk more accessible. It was held in the evening so people who work during the day could attend. A Spanish interpreter and bilingual materials were offered so more members of the Latino community could be part of the conversation. It also provided free childcare.
The partner organizations are now using the information gathered from the conversations at these two events in strategic planning efforts for the Blue Mountain region. With the data and the initial conversations as a guide, they plan to continue conversations with a growing network of residents to create a community-driven vision for the improvement of the well-being of the region and its people.
And at the Budget & Policy Center, this collaboration with our partners in eastern Washington marks a new way of doing our work. We recognize that data is much more powerful – and a better tool for developing and advancing effective public policies – when it is shaped by the stories of the people it represents. Building data walks and other community engagement tools into our research ensures that our analysis is informed by and accountable to the people and communities behind the numbers. They are the people and communities whose well-being we seek to ensure in our work to create a just, prosperous, and equitable Washington.
This is the first in a series of schmudget blog posts about property taxes in Washington state and the role they play in funding basic K-12 education.
By Kelli Smith, policy analyst, and Andy Nicholas, associate director of fiscal policy
In the upcoming 2017 legislative session, Washington state lawmakers have an important opportunity to help all schoolchildren. In order to provide Washington’s kids with the opportunity for a future that includes better jobs, more civic engagement, and greater economic security, legislators must provide the resources needed to improve basic public education, as defined in the State Supreme Court’s McCleary decision – while also making other key investments that support thriving communities.
Yes, it’s a tall order, requiring billions of dollars annually in additional resources. But it can and must be done for the sake of Washington’s future. And it must be done in a way that protects investments in priorities that help Washingtonians who are struggling to make ends meet – especially those investments that help ameliorate the effects of systemic racism and other structural barriers to opportunity.
State and local property tax levies supply a foundation of funding for K-12 education in Washington state. A number of proposals involving changes to property tax levies have been introduced by state policymakers in the last few years. Few of these proposals would tackle the real challenges involved in ensuring we have adequate funding for schools, however.
So-called “revenue-neutral levy swaps” – shell games involving increases to the state property tax levy accompanied by decreases to local school districts’ levies – would generate no additional overall resources for schools. And though some lawmakers argue that a levy swap is necessary for the legislature to fulfill the mandate of the Supreme Court, the reality is that replacing local levies with the state levy won’t provide the funding to address the court’s primary concern – helping every kid in Washington state to get a top-quality education.
Lawmakers must address the real barrier to creating the education system our kids deserve: a deeply inequitable state and local tax system that not only overly relies on the people least able to pay taxes, but that also doesn’t provide adequate revenue to support schools and other public priorities.
Before upending the current balance between the state and local levies, lawmakers should adopt more comprehensive solutions and work to make the overall property tax system a more equitable and reliable source of funds for schools and other priorities. The legislature should enact the following common-sense reforms to benefit all schoolchildren:
- Enact property tax credits specifically designed to reduce taxes for lower-income and middle-income homeowners as well as renters who can’t afford higher property tax bills that get passed down to them through higher rents.
- Eliminate the damaging law that restricts property tax revenue growth to 1 percent per year (or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower), which saps billions of dollars from schools.
- Remove the rigid “ten-dollar limit,” which makes it difficult for some cities and counties to meet needs for emergency services, public safety, parks, and other priorities by arbitrarily limiting the sum of all regular levies (those that do not have to be reauthorized by voters on an ongoing basis) to $10 per $1,000 of assessed property value.
- Raise the state property tax levy, which at $2 per $1,000 of assessed value, is near record lows. This would equitably generate additional revenue for schools throughout Washington state.
Making these changes would be a key step toward fixing our state’s broken and inequitable tax system. And it would provide significant additional funding to help the legislature give Washington’s kids the high-quality schools they deserve.
Future posts in this series will explain these important property tax reforms in more detail. They will also examine the strengths and weaknesses of Washington state’s property tax system as an instrument for funding basic K-12 education. Our analysis of each proposal will take into account the need for racial and gender equity.
It’s time for policymakers in Washington state to take steps to reverse decades of widening economic disparities that threaten broad prosperity, now that it has again been shown that all income growth since 2009 continues to flow to the wealthiest Washingtonians.
An updated report from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) shows that the richest 1 percent of households – those making over $388,000 a year – captured all of the new income generated in Washington state between 2009 and 2013 (see graph). By contrast, and in a stark reversal from past decades, average incomes among the remaining 99 percent of Washingtonians declined during this period, causing far too many hardworking families to fall even further behind.
The richest 1 percent of Washingtonians didn’t always reap such an outsized share of income gains during periods of economic growth. Prior to 1980, the 99 percent typically captured at least 80 percent of all income gains during economic expansions.
Further, as the EPI report points out, it used to be considered outrageous for executives to receive multimillion dollar salaries and outsized bonuses while laying off workers. Today, as the vast majority of working people and families in Washington state continue to struggle, super-rich CEOs living here are doing better than ever. In fact, in 2015, the CEO of Washington state-based Expedia received the highest pay ($94.6 million) of any corporate chief executive in the county.
It has become abundantly clear in recent years that everyday Americans and Washingtonians are tired of the economic inequality that has become the norm. In our state, we need policies that help all communities thrive by strengthening employment and creating more living-wage jobs. We need to make sure our tax code doesn’t favor the wealthy and the politically connected over the common good.
In fact, our upside-down tax system – where Washingtonians with the lowest incomes pay seven times as much in state and local taxes as a share of their income than the richest 1 percent – makes it even harder for the 99 percent to get ahead.
Building a stronger Washington economy requires greater economic equality and overall equity. Lawmakers must undo the systemic inequities that have created gaps in opportunity for many people of color to receive good jobs and living-wage salaries.
In Washington state:
- Voters can help advance economic equality and close the opportunity gap if Initiative 1433, now gathering signatures, makes it on the November ballot and passes. It would incrementally raise the minimum wage to $13.50 over four years, increasing the take-home pay for 730,000 people working across a range of sectors. It would also provide paid sick leave, so parents don’t lose wages when they need to take care of themselves or their children when they’re sick.
- Lawmakers during the 2017 legislative session must pass the capital gains tax recently proposed by Governor Inslee and leaders in the State House, which has been endorsed by major papers and many community groups throughout our state. And they should use the revenue from capital gains to invest in education, health care, and other services that expand economic opportunities for everyone.
And as lawmakers work to craft policies that seek to provide economic opportunity to Washingtonians, they must be especially mindful that those policies empower those who have been most harmed by racism and other structural inequalities that fuel the rise in economic inequality.
Key among the positive changes: Since 2008, the number of children growing up without the health coverage they need to see a doctor when they’re sick has improved by 38 percent. What’s at work is the state’s Cover All Kids law, which passed in 2007 and created affordable health coverage called Apple Health for Kids. The Affordable Care Act’s 2014 creation of a flexible market for individual plans has also propelled child coverage in Washington to one of the nation’s highest.
Yet the child poverty rate is nearly 30 percent higher than it was in 2008, with an additional 59,000 children growing up below the federal poverty level. Poverty can impede children’s cognitive, social, and emotional development and contribute to poor health. And poverty disproportionately harms kids and families in communities of color, who face other barriers to economic security in the form of an educational opportunity gap and a high cost burden for housing, food, and other basic needs. These stressors are caused by, and contribute to, the structural racism faced by families of color. This undermines progress for children and the state as a whole.
The two organizations that make up KIDS COUNT in Washington – the Washington State Budget & Policy Center and the Children's Alliance – support two-generation approaches to creating economic security for both children and their parents. One 2016 proposal that would help both kids and families is Initiative 1433, the $13.50 minimum wage initiative now gathering signatures for the state’s November ballot. It would raise the take-home pay for the working parents of thousands of Washington children. And it would also provide up to seven days of paid sick and safe leave per year, helping Washington families by ensuring that workers don’t lose wages when they need to take care of themselves or their children when they’re sick.
The implementation of a higher minimum wage would be an important step toward lifting more Washington kids out of poverty. And, as noted in the 2016 Data Book, it is one of many policy solutions needed to improve the well-being of future generations.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation creates a brighter future for the nation’s children by developing solutions to strengthen families, build paths to economic opportunity, and transform struggling communities into safer and healthier places to live, work, and grow. For more information, visit www.aecf.org. Visit datacenter.kidscount.org for the most recent national, state, and local data on hundreds of indicators of child well-being.
- Melinda Young-Flynn, Budget & Policy Center communications manager, 206.262.0973, ext. 223
- Adam Hyla, Children's Alliance communications director, 206.324.0340, ext. 18
Welcoming refugees who flee to the United States to escape potential persecution in their home countries is not just the right thing to do from a humanitarian perspective. It’s also good for the continued growth of our economy, according to a new report by the Fiscal Policy Institute and the Center for American Progress.
Refugee Integration in the United States focuses on four groups that are identifiable in Census Bureau data – Somali, Burmese, Hmong, and Bosnian refugees – that together constitute about 500,000 U.S. residents, and 20 percent of all refugees. The report demonstrates the many ways that refugees contribute to economic growth in cities and states throughout the country. A few highlights:
- Refugees contribute to the labor force soon after they arrive and become even more fully integrated into the workforce after 10 years in the United States.
- Refugees start a wide range of small businesses at high rates.
- Refugees bring economic and cultural vitality to many areas with dwindling populations.
With regard to business ownership, refugees follow the trend of U.S. immigrant populations in general: They have high overall rates of business ownership. For example, there are 36 immigrant business owners for every 1,000 people in the labor force, higher than the rate for U.S.-born, which is 31 for every 1,000 in the labor force. And within the refugee populations studied in the new report:
- Bosnians own businesses at a rate of 31 per 1,000, with high rates of ownership in trucking and construction businesses, as well as in professional and business services and restaurants.
- Burmese, with a business ownership rate of 26 per 1,000, are spread across a wide number of types of businesses, from retail store owners to doctors with their own private practices.
- Hmong, at 22 per 1,000, tend to own businesses in agriculture, retail, restaurants, home health care, and nail salons.
- Somalis, at 15 per 1,000, often become shop owners and travel agents, and they own incorporated businesses in taxi or truck driving – with some concentration also found among engineers and scientific consultants.
Click on graphic to see enlarged version.
Local economies throughout Washington state benefit from the addition of these small businesses, especially given the high percentage of Somali and Bosnian refugees who reside in this state. Washington has the nation’s third-largest Somali refugee population – more than 9,000. There are also more than 3,700 Bosnian refugees, nearly 2,000 Burmese, and more than 1,000 Hmong who make Washington their home. All refugee and immigrant communities are an important part of the fabric of society, making our state more culturally rich and economically vibrant.
The four refugee groups studied in this report came to the United States to escape hardships unimaginable to many people – including civil war, genocide, displacement, and sectarian violence. And yet since starting over in an unknown country over the last several decades, they have helped to strengthen local economies, build thriving businesses, and enrich communities in unquantifiable ways.
Policymakers in our state and our country continue to wrestle with how to handle a sharp rise in the number of people around the globe displaced by conflict and persecution in places like Syria. The United States has only resettled around 1,200 Syrian refugees, well below its pledged goal of 10,000 for fiscal year 2016. In Washington state, Governor Jay Inslee has made the case for welcoming Syrians. In an op-ed for the New York Times, he highlighted the example of how Governor Dan Evans welcomed the Vietnamese refugees in the 1970s, unlike governors in many other states at the time. It has led to a large, thriving Vietnamese-American community in our state.
Yet resettlement still continues to be a complicated issue with many vocal critics. Amid these complications, Refugee Integration in the United States demonstrates there is reason for encouragement. When welcomed into the United States and provided a safe haven, refugees bring untold cultural and economic benefits to our states.
For further reading about how all immigrants contribute to Washington, see our previous blog post on the topic.
All of Washington's children could have the opportunity to thrive in school and life if policymakers took key steps to improve economic security and remove barriers to success, our new report finds.
State of Washington’s Kids 2016, co-published with the Children’s Alliance through our Washington KIDS COUNT partnership, shows that children are better able to prosper when such basic needs are met as a secure place to sleep at night and food on the table. Yet four out of 10 kids in Washington state live in families that struggle to meet these basic needs, according to the report. This economic insecurity puts kids at greater risk of falling behind throughout their life – in school, jobs, personal health, and civic engagement. What's more, structural racism – which exists because of a historical legacy of discriminatory practices in housing, finance, and education – means that kids of color find themselves on increasingly unequal and unstable footing.
State of Washington’s Kids shows that:
- The number of homeless children is up by nearly 15,000 since 2008, and is particularly high among students of color.
- Just four in 10 children entering kindergarten are prepared in all six areas of readiness: social, emotional, physical, cognitive, literacy, and math. Only one in three American Indian/Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander students are prepared in all six areas of readiness.
- In all but two Washington counties, the number of child care slots available for hardworking parents is less than the number of children in need of such care.
There is plenty of reason for hope. The rate of low birthweight babies in our state has remained quite low – below 6.4 percent – since 2005. The number of children with health insurance increased to 96 percent in 2014. And on-time high school graduation rates in Washington have held steady, above 75 percent since 2010.
Nevertheless, much work remains to be done. We cannot achieve our promise of a brighter future for all children when so many kids of color are being left behind. Our report offers two multi-faceted solutions to provide all of Washington’s children with the opportunity to get ahead:
- Take meaningful steps to undo structural racism and the system of exclusionary practices and policies that breed inequities for kids of color. Replace them with solutions that enable kids from all backgrounds to succeed. One way policymakers can advance inclusivity is to use racial equity measurement tools to review the impact of proposed legislation that seeks to close the opportunity gap. [See our racial equity toolkit for one resource to accomplish this.] Another essential step is to work directly with leaders in communities of color to learn from them about recommended strategies to redress inequities.
- Invest in the success of whole families by recognizing that the well-being of children is inextricably tied to the well-being of their parents. Kids do better when their parents do better. That’s why two-generation approaches to poverty prevention in particular offer a good model. Proposed legislation focusing on intergenerational poverty that was introduced in the 2016 legislative session was a good start. Further, Initiative 1433, now gathering signatures for the November ballot, would smartly raise the take-home pay for the working parents of thousands of Washington children. And by providing paid sick and safe leave, it would also help Washington families by ensuring that workers don’t lose wages when they need to take care of themselves or their children when they’re sick.
Taking steps to implement these common-sense solutions would set Washington’s children up to have a healthy start in life, have their basic needs met, and succeed in school and life. We'll build a better future for all of us if we take the right steps for our children now.
This morning, the state Supreme Court unanimously struck down Tim Eyman’s latest attempt to restrict the legislature’s ability to eliminate wasteful tax breaks and enact new revenue for public priorities like education, infrastructure, and health care. Initiative 1366, another in a series of Eyman’s unconstitutional supermajority proposals, would have allowed a handful of lawmakers to stand in the way of attempts to raise revenue for these and other state investments. Supermajority laws require a two-thirds vote of the legislature to enact any tax increase, essentially granting veto power to just 17 senators out of 147 state legislators.
As we’ve described in the past, I-1366 would have been disastrous for Washington. It would have essentially blackmailed the legislature into restricting its own ability to enact new state revenue, or else lose $1.4 billion a year from the state budget for important services like higher education, safe communities, and health care. This, in the face of an historic mandate from the state Supreme Court to fully fund basic education for our kids and grandkids, which will require billions of additional dollars for schools each year.
In order to fund state priorities that build strong communities, like parks and libraries, safe roads, and schools that we can depend upon to educate the next generation of Washington’s leaders, the legislature must be able to do its job. That includes raising revenue equitably and sustainability – and by decision of the entire legislative body, not just a handful of influential lawmakers.
As the Court stated in its opinion: “[If I-1366 were allowed to stand, t]he new norm would be for the initiative sponsors to pair one drastic or undesirable measure with an ultimatum that it go into effect unless a specific constitutional amendment is proposed to the people.”