While so many Washingtonians are struggling to keep their heads above water – as evidenced by a record 182,000 people in our state filing for unemployment insurance last week – now is the time for bold action from our elected leaders to protect people’s well-being.
Over the past month, Governor Inslee’s response to the COVID-19 crisis has been good: investing in many of the people most impacted by the crisis and using the power of government to keep Washingtonians safe and healthy. We commend him for doing what he can to prioritize the needs of everyday Washingtonians, invest in the workers who are keeping us safe, and provide many people with cash assistance to help them as they lose jobs and income.
When Governor Inslee takes action on the supplemental budget passed by the legislature, he faces an impossible choice. In Washington state, unlike in Washington, D.C., lawmakers have held themselves to a balanced budget requirement. This too often results in state leaders responding to crises by making dramatic cuts to vital state services. This increases the human toll of recessions and slows our state’s economic recovery. We saw this during the Great Recession when state leaders made more than $10 billion in cuts – including eliminating health care for 70,000 Washingtonians, nearly doubling the cost of higher education, and eliminating child care assistance for thousands of Washingtonians.
Responding to today’s economic crisis by slashing funding for public services like schools, health care, long-term care, and economic assistance would have long-term negative consequences on the health and well-being of untold numbers of individuals, families, kids, and communities. People and editorial boards that are calling on the governor to lead with cuts to the budget are wrong-headed and irresponsible.
Our state had issues with homelessness, housing affordability, and income inequality long before the COVID-19 pandemic struck. The kinds of programs funded in the state budget – like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the Housing and Essential Needs program, and so many other programs for people struggling to make ends meet – are a lifeline. If funding for these services and other priorities like schools and affordable housing are cut, ever more people will fall behind. And given that people of color have long faced barriers to economic opportunity, this will disproportionately impact communities of color. In fact, we are already seeing that COVID-19 is worsening inequities for people of color, people with low incomes and hourly service workers, people with disabilities, and other people who are excluded from justice.
To ensure a swift economic recovery, Governor Inslee and our state legislators will need to protect and bolster public investments during this crisis. This will require action to fix our broken tax code to make sure there is substantial revenue in the budget to support the increased need.
They must enact policies like a tax on capital gains for the ultra-wealthy, the removal of unnecessary tax breaks for big businesses, and a tax on the salaries of employees earning more than $1 million per year.