August Cheers & Jeers

We’re not too sure what happened to the summer, but here we are, publishing our last Cheers & Jeers of the season.

It’s only fitting then, that we kick this month’s editorial off with a Cheers to new Washougal School District Superintendent Dr. Mary Templeton, who this week removed a contentious, anti-educator item from the Washougal School Board’s agenda. The resolution would have allowed the superintendent — herself a former educator — to take legal action against the Washougal teachers and put a halt to their strike.

Both local school district superintendents, Templeton in Washougal and Dr. Jeff Snell in Camas, actually deserve a Cheers this month, as both have shown compassion for the educators in their districts who are understandably frustrated after waiting nearly a decade for a solution to the state’s inability to fully fund K-12 public education and pay teachers fair salaries mandated by the Washington Supreme Court.

Cheers also go out to the educators in both districts, who would likely rather be getting to know their students and setting up their classrooms instead of hitting the picket lines early in the morning. These teachers know what many American workers have forgotten: that sticking together and fighting for the good of all is one of the only protections workers have. It is often difficult for community members to understand why teachers don’t seem satisfied with salaries that are often much higher than what other veteran “white collar” professionals with similar degrees are earning in the private sector — we’re looking at you, newspaper journalists, early childhood educators, adjunct college professors and graphic designers — but without strong union leaders going to bat for educators, teaching likely would still be an extremely low-paying profession and our children and communities would suffer.

Our August Jeers hits on a lot of the troubles we’re reporting on these days, and goes out to the staunch “tax reform” advocates who have helped thwart municipalities’ ability to provide basic services like fire, police, libraries and streets with their constant fights against property tax increases and income taxes.

A July 2018 Center for Budget and Policy Priorities report shows exactly how damaging property tax limitations have been throughout the United States, hurting communities’ quality of life and contributing to disparities between “haves” and “have nots.”

“Property tax limits hamstring localities’ ability to provide services that boost opportunity for their residents … and increase racial and economic inequities, in part by leading localities to use revenue sources that fall harder on lower-income people,” the report states. “In these ways, property tax limits harm the quality of life of our communities and make it much harder to produce broadly shared prosperity.”

We can clearly see the effects of decades’ worth of property tax limitations in Camas and Washougal, where city leaders are in ongoing talks about how to get out from under the structural deficit caused by the state’s 1-percent property tax limitation; and within the teachers’ strikes that are happening throughout Southwest Washington and across Washington state.

Shifting away from property taxes to more regressive taxes, like the sales tax, hurts those at the bottom of the socio-economic food chain, and makes reaching that elusive “American Dream” nearly impossible for anyone who wasn’t born white and upper-middle class.

“The shift to sales taxes and fees also increased income disparities because they are more regressive than property taxes,” the report states. “Property tax limits also have expanded racial income gaps by providing disproportionate savings to white homeowners, who are more likely than African Americans or Latinos to own expensive homes, in part because past government policies segregated people of color in lower-value areas.”

This August Jeers especially goes out to all those who rail against local tax increases and against “big government,” but yet don’t question the fact that more than half of the federal government’s $1.2 trillion discretionary budget — the majority of which comes from taxpayers’ income taxes — pays for a military that already has more money than the next seven largest militaries in the world combined.

We cannot keep ignoring the fact that decades of “tax reforms” are severely impairing our communities’ ability to fund the types of basic services — education, fire protection, emergency medical and police services, roads, sewer systems, clean water, libraries and parks — residents need to survive and thrive in today’s world.

The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities report has a very clear solution: “It is time for states to repeal or relax existing property tax limits in order to enable localities to afford the services that their residents expect and need. And it would be a mistake for any state to enact additional property tax limits now.”

Cheers to that.