SEATTLE-Union members picketed the downtown Chase Bank March 15 to demand that the Wall Street giant pay its share of state taxes and stop lobbying for extension of a $67 million tax giveaway while the people face drastic cutbacks in education and health care to balance the state budget.
Al Link, president of the Washington State Labor Council told the crowd, “The Wall Street banks turned their backs on us after they took $700 billion of our money in taxpayer bailouts. Now, here in Washington State, these big banks want even more of our money.”
The protest came on the same day that Washington’s state legislature went into a special session to try to come up with extra revenues or more deep cuts to eliminate a $2.7 billion deficit. This after already inflicting $6 billion or more in cutbacks to vital human needs programs. Yet the big out-of-state state banks are spending millions in the state capital, Olympia, lobbying to win extension of the $67 million tax giveaway.
On St. Patricks Day, the labor movement here is staging a “Jobs NOW” rally at Westlake Park in downtown Seattle to protest 35 percent unemployment in the building trades and to demand that the legislature approve a pending jobs bill that includes funds to replace the crumbling Alaskan Way Viaduct and the Highway 520 floating bridge.
Will Parry, a veteran union leader and past president of the Puget Sound Alliance of Retired Americans debunked the argument that there is no money to fund these lifeline programs. “There is literally billions of dollars available in special state tax exemptions granted to banks and corporations if the legislature has the courage to go after them,” Parry told the World in a phone interview. “In the last couple of years, the legislature enacted another batch of these tax giveaways costing the state another $2 billion in lost revenues. There are over 300 special tax exemptions and privileges for banks and corporations in the Washington tax code.”
Parry added, “The overall economic situation is increasingly desperate for workers. This is the worst possible time to slash the safety net.” He greeted a bill introduced by Spokane’s state Sen. Lisa Brown, a Democrat and Majority Leader of the Senate, to put on the November ballot a referendum to establish a 4.5 percent income tax on those earning $200,000 or more annual income. Her measure would also reduce by one cent the 6.5 percent sales tax. Washington has no state income tax and relies on a “soak the poor” sales tax and property taxes that have dwindled as the economic crisis worsens. The state legislature enacted a graduated income in 1933 but the State Supreme Court overturned it as unconstitutional.
“For decades, tax fairness advocates have advocated a progressive income tax in Washington State,” Parry continued. “Our tax system is the most regressive in the nation. The enactment of a fair, progressive income tax, properly structured, would relieve low-income taxpayers of a tremendous tax burden,” Parry continued. “The sales tax hits low income people hardest and does not generate the revenues needed especially during an economic recession like this one.”
His views were echoed by veteran community activist, John Borah, who served as a city planner in Port Angeles and other cities across the nation. In a widely circulated email, he urged an outpouring of messages to State Rep. Lynn Kessler, majority leader of the Washington legislature, urging her to drop her opposition to a vote on Sen. Brown’s income tax measure. “This progressive change in taxation is desperately needed to help counteract suffering and inadequate funding for education,” Borah wrote.