Tax Hikes

Over the past few years, the University of Washington has been raising the cost of tuition. This year the university has taken the additional step of accepting 150 fewer in-state residents as freshmen, since out-of-state students pay much, much more. This is because the State of Washington has typically paid the rest of the in-state tuition cost — but now the state will only pay 28 percent, down from 72 percent. The state has been cutting funding for the university so drastically — $204 million less this year, not to mention another $278 million in cuts to other public colleges — that the UW in essence cannot afford its primary function of providing a superlative education at a reasonable cost. (A new proposal to allow the school more latitude in setting tuition may help, but I foresee more tuition hikes — which comes to the same thing.) This means that a Washington high-school student with great grades but nothing else will now find it rather harder to get the world-class education heretofore possible — or, to put it another way, telling our children to get good grades so they can get into a good college will be true only if we’re speaking to rich kids, and a lie the rest of the time.

This cut in state support is a tax.

The traditional definition of a tax is money taken by the state under duress, but is this much different? The state is not taxing money, but futures.

The state is also cutting funding for the Washington State Ferry system, once one of the jewels of our public transportation system, by $30 million, meaning that there will be fewer runs and (probably, in time) fewer boats. I know many people who rely on the ferries for many reasons, including islanders who have no other way of getting home. The cuts to the ferry system will inevitably fall on their shoulders in increased ferry fees, more difficulty in travel and commute, and a strain on their time.

This is also a tax. A tax on islands, perhaps.

The state, furthermore, is cutting 17,000 people from the rolls of Washington Basic Health, the lowest-cost health insurance available in the state, to the tune of $108 million. As those 17,000 people were on Basic Health because they could afford no other coverage, this essentially puts them out in the cold with no protection at all. Speaking as someone whose only insurance for the past two years has been the grace of God, I can understand the fear and dread of those 17,000 citizens, who have committed no crime other than being poor in a state that apparently considers poverty worth punishing.

This, too, is a tax. A tax on lives.

These taxes I’ve described strangle people. They steal hope, they steal days and years, they steal breath from bodies. Considering that here among our residents (I need not name names) we have several people with enough wealth to wipe out the state’s deficit and not worry about the check bouncing, and considering we have companies (I need not name names) that make more profit in a quarter than Basic Health costs in two years, and considering that this wealth has not been taxed, I am forced to conclude that there’s one more tax in effect here: a tax on souls. The state government, through its actions and its failures to act, extracts a portion of every soul resident in Washington. This tax policy that lets money go by while putting lives at risk is no less than criminal, and it tarnishes everyone in the state — the politicians for proposing it, and we the citizens for permitting it.

For our own sakes, for the sakes of our leaders, we should end these brutally punishing taxes on the poor and the sick, these levies on those who just happen to be living in the wrong state at the wrong time, and take our taxes from something that — despite appearances — is relatively plentiful: the money that’s out there.

I understand that governments cannot do everything. But if that is true, why must it take its pound of flesh from those who have so little, rather than from those who have so much? I understand the desire to retain one’s property. But does one’s right over property extend to hazarding the lives of your neighbors? I understand that the citizens have reason to distrust the state government with the power of taxing money — I’ve watched one state-sponsored, tax-funded megaproject go up despite the explicit disapproval of the voters, and now I’m watching another roll in without any voting at all. But to respond to such injustice and betrayal by withholding taxes is to punish a dispute between children by starving them to death.

We can do better. We must do better. Yes, there must be reform. Yes, trust must be regained. But when we cut taxes on our wallets we impose taxes on our neighbors. What matters more, our money or their lives? The whole history of human morality cries out, “Life first.” If we cannot help our neighbors through that form of community called government, we deserve neither help nor neighbors.

Tax your thinking on that, and make your choice.

Four Stories: Eric

The following is a work of fiction of my own invention, based on actual events. See notes on “Four Stories: Cassie” for more details.

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Eric sighed and shook his head. These kids, he thought. They don’t understand at all.

“Open the door!” he repeated in his most commanding tones.

“We have demands!” the answer came again.

I’ll bet you do. I got demands, too: get off your lazy, whining asses and let people who want to learn get to class.

Eric turned away from the door to meet with the other officers. “We’re working on the basement windows,” the cop from the LAPD said quietly. LAPD generally looked down on college cops, but this one knew he was on Eric’s turf now, and was generally being respectful.

“Try to keep the property damage to a minimum,” Eric advised. “We’ll just wind up paying for it… we’d make the kids pay, but they’d probably claim they couldn’t afford it.”

The officer smiled. “Yeah, right.”

“These kids, they just don’t know how lucky they have it,” Eric said. “Luckier than I’ve ever been in my whole life.”

I put myself through school doing hard labor. And it wasn’t UCLA, neither, it was community college. I worked nights for starters, then extra shifts, anything. I worked my ass off for my degree. Built myself up from nothing, broke my back putting food on the table. Now here they are: world-class schooling available for them, and they’re throwing it away for a temper tantrum. Messing it up for everyone else, too. Typical white brat nonsense. Don’t they know the value of an education?

Another officer arrived, one of Jon’s UCLA police. “We’re in downstairs.”

Eric nodded. “We’re good, then. Let’s get things back in order.”