Tag Archives: legislature

Tax Exemptions Run Amok in Olympia

Over the last three years Washington State Legislators has passed 61 measures to extend or create new tax exemptions. These exemptions have removed almost a half billion dollars from the 2007 – 2008 biennial budget.

The Economic Opportunity Institute has documented what has happened in a detailed report they issued last year, entitled “Adding up: New Tax Breaks in Washington 2004-2006″

These exemptions are really expenditures and represent a loss from potential revenue available for use by the Legislature in preparing the current budget for the state. Yet the exemptions do not appear as expenditures or potential revenue anywhere in the current budget process.

Once every 4 years a separate report is issued, independent of the budget documents, as if these exemptions do not exist as potential revenue for consideration in determining budget priorities.

Last year when I asked former House Finance Committee Chair Jim McIntire if he knew of any tax exemption that the Washington State Legislature had repealed in the last legislative session he sheepishly said no. Unfortunately most legislators don’t view these special interest tax exemptions as expenditures and potential sources of revenue that the Legislature should consider when preparing a new budget.

Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos is proposing to change that. She is the prime sponsor of HB 1827. The bill is very simple. It says that, as part of the budget process, a report of the current tax exemptions and their costs must be included along with the state budget.

It is an important step to hold the legislators accountable for their decisions regarding giving tax exemptions and their impact on the state budget. Passing HB 1827 would represent an important step in opening up the budget process to more public scrutiny and would give taxpayers a better understanding of where expenditures are being made, especially as regards special interest tax exemptions which remove revenue from other needs like health care for children or education.

Senator Pridemore has introduced the same legislation in the Washington State Senate as SB 6054.

The Washington State Tax Fairness Coalition has made this legislation one of their top priorities in this legislative session. They have set up a web page where you can easily contact your legislators to let them know this is something you also think needs to be passed. Click here to go to their page now.

Seattle Times Does the Boy Talk about Girl Power

Girl Power- No Longer a Novelty” say the “boys” at the Seattle Times. This editorial appeared in today’s Seattle Times but was posted January 1, 2007 on the Internet.

We are the only state in the nation which has two girl Senators and a girl Governor, all a testament to “Girl Power” and our “true progressivism and open-mindedness” says the Seattle Times.

Yes, we have a girl for Governor – 59 year old Girl Governor Christine Gregoire (born March 24, 1947). We also have two girl Senators: Girl Senator Patty Murray (born Oct 11, 1950) who is 56 years old and Girl Senator Maria Cantwell (born Oct 13, 1958) who is 48 years old.

The Seattle Times notes that Maine and California also have two “female” Senators. But California’s Governor is not boy Arnold Schwarzenegger or male Arnold Schwarzenegger but “ever macho” Arnold Schwarzenegger. Why not in all fairness say “Not a Girlie” Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger? That would be in context with the “Girl Power” headline. Maine’s Governor is asexual I guess because he is just “John Baldacci” He is not labeled as a boy or male. Maybe he is bisexual – in that case the girl power factor would put Maine at 2 1/2 instead of 2 out of three offices in the comparison above.

Our “Girl Power“according to the Seattle Times is because “Voters, as well as skilled politicians at several levels, understand that men do a very good job at a lot of things, and, quite often, women do, too I think they meant to say “and, quite often, girls do, too.” But there is more here.

I have a seventeen, almost eighteen, year old daughter who is off to college next year. As I read the above quoted sentence I can’t help but be angered at the bias that this sentence displays that I hoped we were overcoming in our nation. The phrase “…understand that men do a very good job at a lot of things, and, quite often, women do too.” is what bothers me. It reeks of sexism. Men, implying all men, as a class, do a very good job at a lot of things, it says. Without qualification, (all) men (politicians) do a very good job at a lot of things (in politics). But women don’t always do a very good job at a lot of things. They may “quite often” do a very good job at a lot of things but they don’t always do a very good job like men do. This is according to the Seattle Times interpretation of how men and women politicians are perceived by voters and I assume by the Seattle Times. Did no one proofread this editorial?

The Seattle Times editorial is off the mark in talking so condescendingly about “Girl Power” Maybe its because the Times editorial board itself has 8 boys and only 4 girls. But the fact is that the “girls” the Seattle Times talks about as a whole are shut out of power across the country. It’s time we talked about the reality that boys run this country. And boys outnumber girls two to one in Washington’s State Legislature. Is that a sign of “our true progressivism and open mindedness” that the Times talks about?

The Times editorial never once calls a man – a boy and never once calls a man – a male in its talk about “Girl Power“.

The Seattle Times editorial notes that “For many years, Washington has had the highest, or one of the highest, percentages of women in the State Legislature” We are now ranked third after Maryland and Delaware. We are actually tied for third with 3 other states – Arizona, Nevada and Vermont.

But the Seattle Times doesn’t give the figures for how many women are in the Washington Legislature which I think is important to this discussion. The Washington State Senate has 20 women out of 49 total Senators (15 D, 5R). The Washington State House of Representatives has 29 women out of 98 Representatives (19D, 10R) Women comprise almost exactly one third of our Legislature or 33.3% . This breakdown is part of an analysis done by the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers, State University of New Jersey.

Why is it not 50/50? Why do we not have some kind of parity or equality in numbers since women voters comprise about 50% of the voting population? While it is good to applaud the success of women in the ranks of Washington’s Legislators to date, it is not good enough to stop there. We need to challenge the parties and the voters to seek out and elect more women to the State Legislature. We need to rise to the challenge of fair representation. That is the editorial the Times should have written.

A closer look at the numbers of women elected to state legislatures nationally tabulated on the page of the Center for American Women and Politics says to me that women have hit a glass ceiling on rising to power in politics in America. ( See also my earlier discussion of the glass ceiling for women in politics)

Women in State Legislatures:

The trend is pretty obvious. Its like a mathematical equation where the line is approaching a limit of 25%.

The US ranks below a number of other countries around the world in having women in national Legislative office. Our two women U.S.Senators – Senator Patty Murray and Senator Maria Cantwell are only two of 16 women US Senators. 84 Senators are men. Women also comprise only 16% of the members of the US of Representatives.Internationally this ranks us 66th out of 151 national Legislative bodies around the world in the percentage of women holding office. Ironically this is lower than the percentage of women in the national legislature in Iraq (25.5%) and Afghanistan (27.3% and 22.5%).

“Woman Power” in America has a long ways to go to reach any fairness of women being represented in office. If anything Washington State is an anomaly both nationally and internationally. But even the numbers here do not suggest “a sign of Washington’s egalitarian nature.” Because that suggests some kind of equality which doesn’t exist. And it really is not a number we should be satisfied with.
We should be asking ourselves why aren’t we doing better, both here and nationally? Why isn’t there an approximately equal number of men and women in public office? Shouldn’t we be setting a goal to achieve a better balance? What do we have to do to achieve more women elected to public office? These are the questions that need answers.