Washington State: Where Billionaires Get Richer, and Schools Get Shafted

This is an astonishing article about the battle for fair funding of public education in Washington State, where billionaires pay a lower tax rate than working stiffs. The article appeared almost two years ago, but it remains relevant today.

“Despite its image as the cutting-edge land of Microsoft, Boeing, Amazon, Starbucks, and many other corporate icons, the state ranks near last place nationally in education categories such as per-pupil funding, class size, and college attendance.”

A valiant lawyer, Thomas Ahearne, took on the case more than a decade ago and found Stephanie McCleary, a mother with two young children, who was willing to step up and be the public face of the struggle. The state’s courts have ruled in favor of McCleary, but the legislature has failed to raise taxes on the wealthiest or to come up with a plan to fund the schools equitably.

Bill Gates, the most famous billionaire in Washington State, has exerted his energy to push through charter schools, not to fund all schools better. As compared to tax reform, charter schools are a bargain.

“Washington has long cited a paucity of tax revenues for such failings. Yet, at the same time, it gives away more money in corporate tax breaks than any other state aside from New York, which has nearly three times the population. It is the result of what some call a “war between the states” to lure companies with treasury-draining giveaways — a trend so strong that this state’s governor likened it in an interview to corporate “extortion.” politicians would rather give corporate tax breaks than fund the schools in their district. They forget that good public schools attract corporate talent.

Here is a major reason that Washington state is not funding its schools: tax breaks for corporations that threaten to leave the state. Boeing threatened to leave, and the governor and legislature gave Boeing a deal in 2013 that “provided Boeing with $8.7 billion in tax breaks through 2040, the largest ever granted to any company by a state. The deal was meant to ensure that Boeing built its new 777X plane in Washington. In recent months, however, Boeing has transferred 3,500 jobs to other states and plans for at least 2,000 more to be moved, reviving concerns about the tax deal.”

Washington is a blue state with a Democratic Governor, Jay Inslee, but it must take care not to offend the billionaires.

“The billions for Boeing were given as the state struggled with the broader issue of tax inequities. Washington has the nation’s most unequal tax structure, according to a report by the nonpartisan Institute on Taxation & Economic Policy. The state’s poorest 20 percent of residents pay 16.8 percent of their income in state and local taxes, while the wealthiest 1 percent pays just 2.4 percent.

“We have the most regressive tax system in the United States by a long shot,” Inslee said. That “has exacerbated income inequality, [and] it has been much more difficult to find a source that would adequately fund education,,,.”

“The state’s agricultural, timber, and mining industries paid even less than high-tech – a combined $14.6 million. And the aerospace industry, which includes Boeing, paid $72 million in the Business and Occupation Tax.”

How can a state fund education when its richest industries pay meager taxes?

Almost three years ago, the state’s highest court fined the state $100,000 per day for every day it does not adopt an acceptable plan. The money is accruing in a bank account, and the state has failed to comply.

Meanwhile the billionaires of Washington state enjoy their low taxes, complaining about the public schools, and plugging for a handful of charter schools. This allows them to call themselves “reformers” while they profit from the underfunding of the state’s public schools.

from sarah http://ift.tt/2pJ5VLk

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