Tax code

Guest column: Washington State needs a fairer tax code | Opinion

I am a proud member of the Yakama Nation who grew up in the Yakima Valley. I believe that no matter the color of our skin or how much money we have in our bank accounts, we all want to take care of ourselves and our loved ones – and leave things better for those who come after us.

Although I’m an elected official living in Spokane now, I haven’t forgotten my roots on the Yakama reservation. Growing up, I knew inherently and through anecdotes: life on the reservation is simply more difficult due to lack of access to health care, regular visits to the doctor and dentist; underfunded schools; generations of hereditary trauma; and a host of other factors.

It wasn’t until my dad got a good union job that our family’s economic situation stabilized. It laid the groundwork for me to graduate from high school, go to college, and eventually buy my own house. I am the first in my family to do so. I had to overcome both the odds and the tax code to do so.

You may have heard that our tax code is upside down. This means that those who earn the least pay the highest percentage of their income in state and local taxes, while those who earn the most pay the least. Indeed, the rich few do not pay what they owe.

And for too long, some politicians, wealthy corporations and special interests who have rigged the rules in their favor have also tried to divide us. They push a narrative that blames ordinary people, and especially Indigenous peoples, people of color and immigrants, for the hardships the wealthy few have intentionally created. Their goal is to stop us from coming together to demand our shared resources and the programs, schools, and supports that all of our families need.

Our tax code has kept in place racist and classist systems that disproportionately harm Indigenous, Black, and communities of color, making it harder for us to create and pass on wealth.

It doesn’t have to be that way. I’m on the board of the Washington State Budget & Policy Center, an organization that has long worked to create a fairer and more equitable tax code. Last year we got together to rewrite the rules and redo our tax code. In partnership with a passionate group of advocates, activists, and coalition partners, the Budget & Policy Center helped pass a capital gains tax to ensure those who did well in Washington do well in Washington.

Capital gains tax is a modest 7% tax on profits over $250,000 from the sale of stocks and bonds. It will affect less than 1% of Washington’s taxpayers, or about 8,000 people.

Proceeds from the tax – estimated at more than $500 million annually – will be invested in the Education Legacy Trust Account for the benefit of students, teachers, families and eventually employers and all other residents of our state.

Sadly, a handful of the wealthiest people in our state filed the 1929 Initiative to permanently repeal the capital gains tax we fought so hard for and that would be a crucial step in balancing our tax code. If you’re being asked to sign a petition to put I-1929 on the ballot this fall, consider this: Do Washington’s super-rich deserve a huge tax cut at the expense of the rest of us and our children ?

As the first Native American woman elected to the Spokane School Board, I know how critical funding is for early learning and K-12 education. As a working mom, I’ve seen how important affordable child care is for parents. Schools and daycares would both get a much-needed boost from capital gains tax.

Now is the time to invest more in children, to help families in need and to support small businesses that are getting back on their feet. This is a time when we need to redouble our efforts to break down the barriers that Black, Brown and Indigenous children face in school, including curriculum cultural competency and increasing graduation rates.

Now is the time to come together to make sure the wealthy pay what they really owe in taxes and demand that our lawmakers rewrite the rules so nothing stands in the way of providing a good life for our families.

Jenny Slagle – a Yakama Nation tribal member and Northern Arapaho descendant – is the Director of Tribal Partnerships at Upstream USA, a member of the Spokane School Board, and a member of the Washington State Budget & Policy Center Board of Trustees.