Opinion: Have you heard about the movement to clean up the broken tax system in Washington State?

Velma Veloria January 9, 2018 0

The Legislative Building in Olympia • Photo by Nimaj/Flickr

In Washington, the wealthiest households pay less than 3 percent of their income in state and local taxes. Meanwhile, middle-income families pay around 10 percent and those with the least pay up to 17 percent. This structure is shocking.

In our state, low income families pay the greatest share of state and local taxes thanks to Washington’s uneven tax system. Communities of color are more likely to be in the lowest income group than other Washingtonians. Southeast Asian families in particular face high levels of poverty in our communities, with over 80 percent of Cambodian students, 70 percent of Vietnamese students, and 50 percent of other Southeast Asian students receiving free and reduced lunch at school.

That means Southeast Asian communities and other communities of color are likely to be among the highest taxed in our state.

Have you heard of the Soda Tax? You might only be paying 10 cents more for every soda you buy, but this new sales tax burdens low income communities and communities of color the most. In fact, all sales taxes hit us the hardest. If Bill Gates and I both bought a soda, that sugary drink (plus the extra 10 cents) would cost a larger portion of my salary than his. The soda tax, and all sales taxes, unevenly impact lower income families. They are regressive taxes.

We know we can’t get something for nothing, and that investing in our communities is important. To do so, we all need to pay our share, including the rich and powerful. In Washington, communities of color pay a disproportionate share, while wealthier families get a special deal. By January 9, the wealthiest households in our state have earned enough money to pay their share of state taxes for the entire year, while working people need more than two months to do the same.

This a broken system and it’s jeopardizing our future. If everyone, including the wealthiest residents, invested together in the foundations of a strong community, we could achieve great things, like excellent public schools, high quality healthcare, affordable housing, and well maintained infrastructure. But because the wealthy and powerful get a special deal, we aren’t able to invest in the foundations our communities need to thrive.

We all want great public schools in our state, but thanks to our unfair tax system, we’re unable to give all students the resources they need, and we’re seeing their academic performance suffer. Some kids continue to perform at lower than proficient standards, a sign that our education system is underserving certain groups of students, often low income children and children of color.

Southeast Asian children specifically face steep barriers to opportunity that keep them from reaching their full potential in school. Our kids come up against extreme language barriers that prevent them from achieving. But it doesn’t have to be like this. We can provide the support our children need, like English Language Learner and bilingual teaching programs if we all pay our share.

The first step to a thriving Washington is cleaning up our tax system. We lose billions of dollars every year through wasteful tax breaks and loopholes for big corporations and the wealthy, resources that should be invested in our public schools. If we end those special deals, we’ll be able to provide more kids with a world class education.

For Southeast Asian families to succeed, we need to ensure that corporations and the wealthiest residents in our state pay their share. It’s time for us to work together to clean up the tax system so our community, and all communities in Washington, can thrive.

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