This morning, The New York Times released a provocative new opinion piece titled “Blue states, you are the problem”, in which Johnny Harris and columnist Binyamin Appelbaum take aim at a selection of Democratic-led states for so-called not living up to one’s values.
The fourteen-plus-minute video consists of an introductory segment followed by a set of three reviews regarding issues in three different Democratic-ruled states: California, Washington and Connecticut.
The California segment focuses on housing, the Connecticut segment on education, and the Washington segment on our state’s reverse tax code.
Several Cascadia Advocate readers were particularly interested in the Washington segment and reached out to seek NPI’s opinion on it.
Our team watched the video and came away quite disappointed.
Here is a transcript of the Washington segment:
HARRIS: Let’s go to another liberal stronghold, here in Washington State. The Democratic Party talks about taxation, saying our tax code has been “rigged against the American people.” Democrats all the time denounce the fact that tax cuts benefit the wealthiest Americans.
ELIZABETH WARREN [CLIP]: It’s time for a wealth tax in America!
HARRIS: Democrats believe in a progressive tax system where the wealthy pay a greater share of their income than the poor.
It’s like the most basic political vision of a progressive movement. It’s central to the Democrats’ policy platform.
APPELBAUM: But if you look at Washington State, what you find is that in Washington State, if you look at the state and local taxes that people pay there, less well-off families pay a much larger share of their income in taxes than the wealthiest residents of Washington State.
So people like Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos – two of the state’s most famous and wealthy residents – are in this fine position of paying less tax as a share of their income than the poor who live in the same state. And this is a fundamental reversal of the values that the Democratic Party professes. There is no state with a more regressive tax system than Washington State.
HARRIS: And I speak like most regressive sense [more so than] Texas. Who is like the conservative bastion of the fight against taxes…is more progressive than Washington State, liberal Washington State.
How real is it?
Oh, and guess which other states on our map are also in the top 10 most regressive tax regimes, like Nevada and Illinois.
APPELBAUM: There have been some changes, especially in recent years, but the overall situation remains resistant to change.
CLIP OF SEATTLE CHANNEL, UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: So I’m very concerned that right now – which is a very bad time to deter people from creating jobs in Washington State – that we’re even considering doing that.
APPELBAUM: From that paycheck you earn most of that money goes to the state government. And so the effect of that is basically to exacerbate inequality.
HARRIS: Okay. So rich liberals don’t show up when it comes to housing or taxes.
The weirdest part of the segment is a clip from the Seattle Channel that appears near the end, seemingly for no reason. This is a short sound bite in which a speaker says he is very concerned that we are considering “that”.
What is “that”, a viewer might wonder? What is this speaker referring to? A proposal to do what, exactly, that the speaker fears might discourage job creation?
Harris and Appelbaum don’t bother to explain. They simply conclude their comments on Washington and move on to their next state, Connecticut.
While Harris and Appelbaum do a good job explaining how upside down Washington’s tax code is (using ITEP rankings and state-by-state data for their visuals), they didn’t bother to delve into the fascinating history of how we got here. This story goes back nearly a century, to a series of events that took place in the 1930s… including a disastrous, indefensible and hugely consequential Supreme Court decision striking down a grassroots initiative that would have levied a tax on income.
Nor did they talk about what the Legislative Assembly and Governor Inslee have recently done to address the issue. If you watch the video, you might get the impression that Democratic leaders in Washington are doing nothing to make Washington’s tax code more progressive, when in fact the Legislature and Governor Inslee have taken a number of steps. important to ensuring a fairer tax code for the Evergreen State over the past legislative sessions.
- Make the Real Estate Excise Tax (REET) more progressive
- Repeal tax breaks that powerful interests like Wall Street banks once enjoyed at the expense of Washingtonians
- Raise a capital gains tax on the rich to support education
- Funding for the Working Families Tax Credit (WFTC)
Importantly, the new state capital gains tax is forcing the wealthy to pay more while the WFTC reduces tax liabilities for less well-off people in Washington. Lawmakers have worked commendably on this issue on both sides.
Those are hard-won victories in the 2019 and 2021 sessions despite objections from Republican lawmakers and even, in some cases, more conservative Democratic lawmakers like Issaquah’s Mark Mullet.
There’s more to do, of course, which is why Democratic lawmakers are currently working on proposals to levy a wealth tax on billionaires, raise estate taxes, and make property taxes more progressive and fair. Lawmakers are also hosting tax town halls this fall to hear from Washingtonians on this very topic..
None of this – none of this – was mentioned by Harris or Appelbaum.
The duo also failed to mention that Washington has the initiative and the referendum, and that right-wing forces represented by Tim Eman have historically used these direct democracy powers to try to keep Washington’s tax code permanently broken and rigged in favor of the rich and powerful. Washington may have Democratic leadership, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any obstacles or barriers in the way of achieving a goal like progressive tax reform.
Context matters. History matters. Yet much of the political commentary published today is superficial rather than substantive. Superficial instead of solid. Sensational instead of studious. And it’s a shame.
Rather than delve into the issues and try to unpack what’s really going on in the Democratic-run US states, and why, Harris and Appelbaum skimmed through three important topics at lightning speed, then kicked off their discussion on the NYT website as bait for the publication’s liberal bent. public.
“Blue States, You’re the Problem” certainly has great production values and slick visuals. The discussion, on the other hand, leaves a lot to be desired. This video could have been so much better…deeper, richer and more informative.
What a missed opportunity.