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Will WA Lawmakers Tackle Tax Fairness in 2020?

A capital gains tax could be on the docket for Washington state lawmakers in their upcoming session. (CrackerClips/Adobe Stock)
A capital gains tax could be on the docket for Washington state lawmakers in their upcoming session. (CrackerClips/Adobe Stock)
January 3, 2020

TACOMA, Wash. - How can Washington state create a more just society in 2020? Two experts say the state should tax its way toward that goal.

The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy ranks Washington last in the nation in terms of tax-system fairness, with low-income residents shouldering the biggest tax burden as a portion of their income.

Katie Baird, an economics professor at the University of Washington Tacoma, says economic policies like these are central to issues of social justice.

"To the extent that you are not fairly taxing people - you're taxing some people a lot more than others - that's one way that governments can be unjust in their policy," says Baird.

She says state lawmakers could address this issue with a capital gains tax, which would be levied on such assets as stocks and bonds worth more than $250,000.

Baird adds another way to make the system more fair is with an income tax, although it would be uphill battle passing one. In 2010, Washington voters overwhelmingly rejected the income-tax idea.

Washington state largely relies on sales taxes. According to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, Washingtonians at the lowest end of the income spectrum pay 18% of their wages in taxes, while those at the highest pay 3%.

Cynthia Stewart, president of the Tacoma-Pierce County League of Women Voters, says state and local governments need more revenue to address pressing issues. She believes solving the state's housing crisis, for example, will require much more funding.

"When you put the two things together - the opportunity for more revenue and the opportunity for that revenue to come from people who can better afford it, and not from the people who would need the service - then to me, that's a compelling argument," says Stewart.

The legislative session begins on January 13.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA