Commentary: Initiative 1033 will extend this recession
As our ballots arrive in the mail, we can all weigh in on one issue central to our health, well-being and future.
Our economy is in the tank, unemployment is rising, and health coverage is being cut back. The private sector, led by the major financial institutions, including the now-defunct Washington Mutual, promoted a trillion-dollar financial bubble. It burst. Regular people, those who go to work, do their jobs and don’t get to call the shots, have been left holding an empty bag.
So what are we left with? Public schools for our kids. Community and technical colleges and universities for young adults, returning students, and workers eager to learn new skills. Unemployment insurance for those who have lost their jobs, workers compensation for those injured on the job, health coverage for (some) of those who have lost theirs, public health systems to protect us from swine flu, police and firefighters we can count on, Social Security for the elderly, disabled, and survivors, including widows, widowers and their children. That is, we still have government.
But there is something on the ballot that could jeopardize even that backstop of educational opportunity and economic security. That is Initiative 1033. This initiative would lock in a loss of $9 billion in public revenue for our state, and hundreds of millions of dollars from counties and cities. It does this by basing all future revenue increases on the current state budget.
What’s so bad about that budget? It cuts 40,000 slots out of Basic Health coverage, just when more people need government assistance for health coverage. The universal purchase program for children’s immunizations has been eliminated. Screening for lead poisoning has been eliminated and screening for colon cancer has been reduced to cover just one county.
The Legislature slashed school funding by $1.5 billion. So when your kids come home complaining about not getting help, or having art and music classes cut, or not being able to get some advice from a counselor, you can connect the dots back to the funding cuts. If you have kids in community college, you will notice a $200 jump in tuition. Next year you can plan on another $200 increase. If you are at the University of Washington, your tuition has gone up more than $800 this year and will increase even more next year. Of course, you might not even have a tuition problem, because the state has cut back the number of slots available for students in public higher education.
Back in 1986, students at Washington State University paid less than $2,500 (in 2009 dollars) for a year of education. That, incidentally, was when Tim Eyman, the author of Initiative 1033, was at WSU. Now students pay more than $6,500. That’s two and a half times Mr. Eyman’s tuition at our state’s premier land-grant college.
What’s good for the student generations of the 1970s and 1980s (including Mr. Eyman and me) should be good for students now. Or do we want to handicap them with class sizes that overwhelm reading, writing and arithmetic in elementary school? Perhaps we don’t need advanced classes in economics, computer-assisted design, marine biology, foreign languages, or civics in high school. Do we really care if our high school students can’t find slots in community colleges, or if they’re put on a waiting list for the University of Washington or Western? After all, they could get a job — but wait, that’s the reason we’re in this mess. There are no jobs.
So the idea that we should cut back government expenditures and investments is downright wrongheaded. It only deepens that recession we’re in.
Initiative 1033 promises property tax reductions when total tax receipts rise above the state, city, and county budgets carved out in 2009. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is instant money. Even if the Initiative passes, its language guarantees that you won’t see any reduction in property taxes until 2012, and the effect of the initiative makes a reduction even after that date improbable. That’s because the cutbacks on government services which I-1033 embeds in law will reinforce the recession. That further reduces revenues for government services.
Initiative 1033 presents a clear choice: a vote in favor of the initiative is a vote to prevent our government from protecting us from this recession. A vote against 1033 is not a panacea, but it will give our citizens a little breathing room and enable a pathway out of the gloomy mess of our current economy.