Governor Gregoire's 2011-12 budget proposal is a brutal attack on the livelihoods of ordinary Washingtonians. If the huge cuts to health care, education, and social services are implemented, they will create widespread suffering and literally kill people.
The governor is proposing to eliminate Basic Health, the only source of health care for 66,000 Washingtonians. In Whatcom County, 2,600 people would lose their health coverage and be forced to suffer with festering ailments. That's almost one out of every 75 residents! The governor is proposing to slash a staggering $2.2 billion from K-12 schools, which are already shamefully underfunded, as well as $630 million from higher education. 49,000 people with severe disabilities are slated to lose their state assistance. It's estimated that 10,000 state workers, including teachers, would be laid off. If these horrific cuts go through, they will shred a weakened safety net and underfunded education system already reeling from four previous years of cuts.
Our government budget deficits are the result of 30 years of shifting wealth from working people to the super-rich and big business. During the last 30 years, the share of national income of the richest 1% of Americans has doubled - from approximately 9% in 1977 to over 20% now. The share of national income of the richest one-tenth of that richest 1% has tripled. The 150,000 households that comprise the top one-tenth of the richest 1% now earn as much as the bottom 120 million Americans combined. In the 1950s, the highest earners paid a tax rate of 91%. Now they pay only 36%. Plus, huge corporations like Exxon-Mobil pay virtually no taxes.
Washington has the most regressive tax system of any state, relying mainly on sales taxes. The Seattle P-I writes, “People earning less than $20,000 annually pay 17.3% of family income toward sales and excise taxes and property taxes... People making between $99,000 and $198,000 each year pay 7.6% toward their tax bill. Meanwhile, people in the top 1% of earners - those making more than $537,000 a year – pay just 2.9%.”
Working-class people and students did not create this economic crisis, and we shouldn’t have to pay for it. It was the risky investments of bankers and “free-market” policies of corporate politicians who created this economic crisis, so they should pay for it. We could solve the budget deficit by taxing large corporations like Microsoft, Weyerhaeuser, and Boeing that have lobbied for corporate-friendly policies in this state. We also need to tax Washington state billionaires like Paul Allen and Bill Gates.
Not only is taxing the super-rich necessary, it’s wildly popular. A CBS 60 Minutes January 2011 poll found 61% want to raise taxes on the wealthy as the primary way to cut the deficit. Yet Democratic Governor Gregoire and the Democratic-controlled state legislature have ruled out tax increases on the super-rich or corporations. Even worse, they just gave $300 million in tax breaks to corporations in February even though they claim they have a budget deficit!
The corporate politicians claim that voters rejected tax increases on the wealthy when they voted down Initiative-1098, but this is a smokescreen. I-1098 would have taxed the richest 3% of Washingtonians to fund health care and education. When I-1098 first made it onto the ballot in 2010, it was supported by over 60% in opinion polls - a clear majority. A similar “tax the rich” initiative passed by 54% the previous year in Oregon. However, the Republican Party, the Seattle Times, and other corporate media outlets waged a massive propaganda campaign, claiming that a tax on the richest 3% would rapidly result in an income tax on everyone else. Overburdened with taxes and lost income, many voters were scared off by the time they voted. However, if the union leaders had responded to the Republicans’ mis-information, I-1098 could have passed. But instead the unions focused on electing Democrats.
The Role of the Democrats
Contrast the politicians’ claims that they can’t tax the rich because I-1098 was not passed with the recent 34-15 vote in the Democratic–controlled state Senate that introduced lump sum payments and other policies to weaken the state’s worker’s compensation system to make it more corporate-friendly. Democratic Governor Gregoire, who said she will sign the changes into law, and the 12 Democrats who voted with Republicans demonstrated that they were perfectly willing to overturn the “voters’ will” on this item, even though it had been defeated by voters in November. So the Republicans and Democrats are willing to overturn a voter initiative that was not in the interest of the corporate elite, but they are not willing to overturn an initiative that is not in the interests of the majority of the people – the working class.
This points to the true nature of the Democratic Party as a party controlled and financed by big business. The Democrats have the Washington state governorship and a majority of the state legislature, yet they are the ones implementing these cuts. The Democrats talk nicely about social services and labor at election time, but when it comes time to make difficult choices, whether it was the Boeing bailout last decade or budget cuts today, corporate interests define their policy.
Egypt and Wisconsin Show the Way Forward
The successful labor strikes and revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and the grassroots protests in Wisconsin show how to fight these cuts and where our power really lies. It was the mass protests in Wisconsin that delayed the governor’s anti-labor bill. It’s true that 14 Democratic senators fled the state to stall the bill, but that was only because the huge pressure they came under from grassroots protests. In fact, the Democrats had already agreed to a 7% cut in state workers’ wages and benefits. It was only when the devastating attack on public employees’ right to a union threatened the Democrats’ political base that the Democrats grew a backbone for once. Clearly, neither Republican nor Democratic politicians can be relied upon to defend workers.
We must rely instead on ourselves - own numbers, our organization, and determination. We need to take to the streets in an ever-expanding movement to defend our public services and jobs. We need to launch a massive campaign of outreach to workers and young people to explain these ideas and demand that the rich and big business pay for the economic crisis, not workers and students.
Writing our legislators has not stopped the cuts. We need student walkouts, strikes, building occupations, and a determination not to back down until the cuts are reversed.
We need to create broad anti-cuts coalitions to involve all individuals and organizations interested in joining this struggle. The unions need to take a lead role due to their power and the numbers they can mobilize.
We need to explain how public spending on services and jobs does not weaken the economy, as the Tea Party claims; it actually boosts the economy. This is because working people have to spend their limited income on buying goods and services, which stimulates the economy, whereas the wealthy tend to hoard their money in savings accounts or trade stocks, which provides no real boost to the economy.
Finally, we cannot leave politics to the two corporate parties. We need to run independent anti-cuts candidates in 2011 and 2012 that are independent of both corporate parties and linked to anti-cuts coalitions. We need to run independent candidates from our movements who will not water down our demands, not bow down to corporate interests, nor get sucked into the Democratic Party machine.
Ultimately, we need to build a new independent political party that refuses donations from corporations and bases itself on the mass mobilization workers, women, people of color, and youth. With the deep structural crisis of capitalism and both corporate parties following the corporate agenda of cuts, we need to build a powerful political alternative to big business with socialist policies that can defend our living standards and public services in the coming years.
- Organize student walkouts, labor strikes, and building occupations! Stop all cuts to education, health care, and layoffs!
- Tax the super-rich and big corporations! Workers and youth shouldn’t have to pay for an economic crisis that the banks created.
- Get a federal bailout! Bail out workers, education, and health care, not banks!
- End the Iraq and Afghanistan wars! Money for jobs and education, not war!
- Run independent anti-cuts candidates in 2011 and 2012!
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