Competition can push us to work harder and get better — and that's a good thing. But when this “race” mentality runs unchecked, the danger is we start to believe the winners are the only ones who matter. And when our economy, our educational institutions, and our government are creating social and economic injustice — especially by continually giving more advantages to those born with a head start in life — then we're no longer living in a democracy.
We have six weeks to election day and three weeks before ballots are mailed out. You can still register to vote online until Oct. 6. When you get your ballot, don’t recycle it. Sit down, take a few minutes to consider your choices, look at the candidates’ websites and endorsers, as well as their sugar-coated positions. Take everything you read or watch, such as paid mailers from candidates or TV ads, with a large grain of salt. And then vote as you think makes the most sense to you, your family, your community and your state. Think and vote like the citizen you are!
Our current tax system worked well enough in the mid-20th century, but it’s insufficient today. As long as we continue to rely on sales tax for half our general fund revenue, we will fall behind and fail our children. The only way to make our system less regressive and require the people with the most money to pay their fair share is to lower the sales tax and adopt a progressive state income tax.
The Legislature may just decide to duck again, and push this off for another year or two or three, and in so doing, undermine the education and well-being of the million plus kids in the public K-12 system. That’s where Initiative 1351 comes in. This initiative is pretty simple. It says that by 2018, four years from now, average class sizes in K-3 must be no more than to 17 students, and for grades 4-12, no more than 25 students. That sounds a lot like the Supreme Court’s McCleary decision…. And it is.
Think about the public goods and services that are financed by property taxes. Schools, city and county expenses, including police and fire departments, emergency medical services, road construction and maintenance, transportation, airports, such as Paine Field, parks, hospital districts, ports, and, of course, the compensation of the public servants we depend on, such as firefighters, road workers, teachers, and even the ferry pilot to Jetty Island. Our property taxes are reinvestments in our property. Look at any flyer for a house for sale in your neighborhood. It will feature nearby parks, access to public transportation and freeways, and the local schools. Those fundamental elements of the public enterprise we call democracy also enhance the private value of your home and property. And they just make life a lot better.
It’s pretty easy to vote at your own kitchen table, filing in the little ovals with your choices while sipping a cup of coffee, and then putting the ballot in the mail. So why did most people do what my son did, just let the ballot sit on the counter until it was too late? Probably because there has settled on our country a certain sense of dispiritedness, disengagement, and dissatisfaction with politics. So why vote?
This week the Social Security Trustees reported that our FICA contributions plus interest, net of all benefits paid out, have increased the Social Security Trust Fund by $32 billion. The trustees also forecast that Social Security benefits are completely sustainable for the next two decades. The media hasn't played these reports up much, perhaps because they don't fit into the narrative that finances for Social Security are collapsing and the only way to save Social Security is to dismantle benefits now. We shouldn't disregard the financing of Social Security two decades from now. But the “solutions” proposed by the guardians of privilege only add to the recipe of redistributing money upwards to the already wealthy and powerful. We have had enough of that over the past 35 years.
At the same time the $15 minimum wage was advancing in Seattle, state legislators were putting together a proposal to increase the minimum wage across the state. That is unfinished business, to be completed next year. The proposal is pretty simple. Over three years, the minimum wage increases, first to $10, then to $11, and then to $12. It is an actual minimum wage, covering all workers in all industries. It enables workers to earn a minimum wage that is close to what that wage brought in 1968 in terms of real purchasing power (right now our minimum wage is only about 85 percent of its 1968 value). This $12 minimum wage would still be well below what it would have been if it had kept up with productivity increases since 1968. (If it had kept up, it would be at about $18 an hour.) But it is a lot better — two and a half dollars better — than our current standard.
The Civil War was a battle cry for freedom, not incarceration. And yet, we live in a country in which we deny six million Americans the right to vote. In Washington state, 30,000 people are incarcerated, 90,000 are on probation, and 8,000 are on parole. Of these, 53,000 are denied the franchise. We like to think that we rehabilitate criminals, but we don’t. We punish them, we force them into a lower caste, and deny them the right to vote. As we celebrate our independence, we can draw a line from the Civil War and Gettysburg, to the Civil Rights Movement, and on into our own future. We can create a nation that indeed shall have a new birth of freedom, so we can realize a government of the people, by the people, for the people … including all of the people of our great country.
The class of 2014 has already lived through an economic and political rollercoaster. And they remain optimistic, enthusiastic, and wondering ... wondering what the future portends for them, and how they can make a future for themselves. They have been through the worst cycles of our economy. They live in the results of a culture that endorsed selfishness and greed. They want to make sure that is the past, not the future. If they succeed, this will be good for our kids and our kids' kids. And it will be good for us. Thank you in advance to the class of 2014. You are your brother's keeper.
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