Taxes make health happen

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Taxes make health happen

Your tax dollars fund investments that support healthy communities

By - April 15, 2019

It’s Tax Day! As many scramble to submit tax returns, we are celebrating the power of taxes to help build a healthier Washington where everyone can thrive.

Tax revenue pays for investments that boost everyone’s health. Most of our health is shaped by what happens outside of the doctor’s office. Public goods like high-quality education, accessible parks, stable housing, and safe communities are bigger influencers on our health than individual health behaviors. That’s why states that invest more in public health and social services have better health outcomes. The research is clear:

  • Increasing county-level public health spending1 on things like community health centers is associated with a decrease in deaths2. The decrease is even greater within communities of color.
  • Counties that dedicate a higher share of their budgets to public health, K-12 education, libraries, housing, and community development tend to have better health outcomes.
  • States that make larger investments in social services have better health outcomes in measures of: adult obesity, asthma, reported mentally unhealthy days, lung cancer mortality, heart attacks, and Type 2 diabetes.

Our state budget and tax code are powerful tools to advance health. This session, policymakers have the opportunity to rebalance our tax code to enable all Washingtonians to meet their fullest potential.

But Washington’s regressive, upside-down tax code is creating barriers to good health. Our state’s tax code is the most upside down in the nation, with hardworking low- and middle-income families paying a far greater share of their incomes in state and local taxes – as much as six times more – than the wealthiest pay. This makes it hard for our state to raise the revenue needed to invest in the foundations that serve us all. It also contributes to rising income inequality. Research shows that where there is greater income and wealth inequality, there are also greater disparities in health for low-income communities and communities of color.

Our state budget and tax code are powerful tools to advance health. This session, policymakers have the opportunity to rebalance our tax code to enable all Washingtonians to meet their fullest potential. The Washington state legislature is moving in the right direction with proposals to close the tax break on capital gains and to fund a modern Working Families Tax Credit. Supporting these measures is the first step in balancing our worst-in-the-nation tax code and equitably raising revenue to invest in the health of our communities.

And for more: Read this International Examiner op-ed by Associate Director of Social and Health Policy Jennifer Tran and Narver Fellow Margaret Babayan about how enacting the Working Families Tax Credit is good for our communities’ health. 

1. For this analysis, non-hospital public health spending included spending on community-based health services and outbreak responses, for example. For more information, see Leider JP, Alfonso N, Resnick B, Brady E, McCullough J Mac, Bishai D. Assessing The Value Of 40 Years Of Local Public Expenditures On Health. Health Aff. 2018;37(4):560-569. doi:10.1377/hlthaff.2017.1171

2. This refers to a decline in all-cause mortality, which is a measure of deaths in a given population.

About Margaret Babayan, Betty Jane Narver Policy Fellow

Margaret is part of the Budget & Policy Center’s policy and research team.

Read more about Margaret