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Washington State's 'Robin Hood' Tax | The Nation

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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.

Washington State's 'Robin Hood' Tax

This article originally appeared on WashingtonPost.com.

In an electoral development that must have Ayn Rand rolling in her grave, voters in Washington State will decide next Tuesday on I-1098, a.k.a. the "Robin Hood Initiative." With no state income tax, Washingtonians currently suffer under what the Seattle Post-Intelligencer calls "the least fair tax code in America," a schedule that sees the poorest 20 percent of Washington families pay 17.3 percent of their income in state taxes. Washington's wealthiest 1 percent enjoy a rate of 2.5 percent, while the richest 0.1 percent, according to I-1098 supporter Nick Hanauer, pay "something like three-tenths of one percent." The ballot measure would reform this regressive tax structure.

Hanauer, a Seattle venture capitalist who is actually a part of that richest 0.1 percent, sees Washington's system, and the trickle-down, Reaganomic wisdom behind it, as "hogwash.... Where rich people don't pay their share," as he said in a conference call on Tuesday. "It's a hellhole." Arithmetically, he says, a tax code like Washington's is ultimately unable to sustain a capitalist democracy.

For Hanauer, an original investor in amazon.com, I-1098 is about fairness and prosperity. "As a society," he asks rhetorically, "do we want to live up to our obligations and put our money where our mouth is? Investing in public infrastructure"—through taxes—"makes prosperity possible." Hanauer admits that he's frightened for the future of his state and his country. When the private sector shirks symbiosis with the public sector and instead opts for a more parasitic relationship, it's a recipe for disaster.

Bill Gates, Sr., father of the Microsoft co-founder, sees I-1098 as a way to rescue the state's public school system. Washington State ranks 47th out of the fifty states in terms of monetary support for the public school system, a situation that he says is "completely inconsistent with urges and dreams of Washingtonians. We want a great education system; that's what this initiative is about." Washington's state constitution charges the legislature with the "paramount duty" to "make ample provision for education of all children," a stipulation, Gates points out, that leaves the current system of public education in contempt of the highest law in the land. If passed, I-1098 would generate several billions of dollars annually for the state's starving schools.

If the "Libertarian fantasy" of Reaganomics worked, says Hanauer, "there would be a place with no taxes, no rules and where everyone is a king. And if that place exists, it's where the Easter Bunny lives."

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