Friday, December 9, 2011

Show Me the Money

At the behest of our local public radio station, I spent some time monkeying around with the League of Education Voters budget calculator for Washington state.

It's a simple enough little widget. You have to plug a 1.7 billion dollar hole in the Washington state budget buy clicking a series of check boxes to either cut some program or another or raise tax revenue. As with most things, there's an easy way, and a hard way. The easy way to win this particular budget battle is to simply select the option for the "Income tax for high earners, paired with reduced property tax rates," option and hey presto! problem solved. And the best thing about it is that unless you're pulling down somewhere in the area of 200 grand a year (or double that between you and a spouse) not only does it not cost you a thing, but your property taxes might even go down! Brilliant!

But it's not my personal cup of tea, so I instead jacked up sales taxes to raise about the first billion dollars, moved closer to the goal by eliminating a sales tax exemption on trade-ins and then went hunting through state programs to make up the rest. And that's when things became dicey. Mainly because with any situation like this, in the end, the only question that matters is "Who pays?" And as far as I'm concerned, the best answer is always "All of us." Of course, because of the ways that government programs are structured, "all of us" is easier said than done. In the end, I think I created a plan designed to elicit howls of "outrage" from people along all points of the political spectrum, which means that it would never make it out of committee.

It was an interesting exercise, even if it felt somewhat skewed to the left (no surprises there). I suspect that everyone should try something like this, if only for the general overview of the sorts of things that money is being spent on.

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