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Taxes and Institutions

The November 20th edition of the Puget Sound Business Journal includes an article titled “Washington’s Economic Detective: Dick Conway (pictured) explains why the tax system of today starves the state.” Mr. Conway is a regional economic researcher and serves on the Governor’s Council of Economic Advisers.

As a proponent of a single rate income tax system, Mr. Conway points out that Washington ranks 46th in the nation on spending per capita on education and 38th in per person spending for I/DD services. Even though spending is so low relative to other states, Washington has one of the best outcomes in terms of number and percentage of I/DD citizens working in integrated community employment settings (and paying taxes!). Yet while we are at the forefront of inclusion of persons with intellectual developmental disabilities working in the community, we also have a large number of segregated state institutions. Opponents of closing the institutions cite inadequate community resources in the community suited for assisting I/DD folks currently living in the institutions. Obviously, we are doing a great job with less than adequate funding which indicates a strong infrastructure in the community exists.

In the article Mr. Conway poses this question “When you have a successful economy, but lack the tax revenue to provide services adequately, you have to ask yourself, what’s wrong?” Conway goes on to state that the “presumption – including the Initiative 1366 – is that our taxes are too high and legislators are spendthrifts. When, in fact, our taxes are arguably way too low. As a result, we’re not spending nearly enough on public services.” Certainly, Boeing, Amazon, Microsoft, and other high tech companies are screaming for better public education to make sure our workforce of tomorrow is up for the challenge of supplying a steady stream of trained and educated workers. All of these companies rely heavily on H-1B foreign guest workers to fill high tech jobs. I believe we can “grow our own” when it comes to training and educating the state’s youth to work in the hi-tech industry. Why can’t the populist see the need improved education to advance our state even further economically? Are we all so miserly and self-centered that we are loath to crack open the pocket book and spend money on such a worthwhile endeavor?

My question is why in a successful economy and in a state that has the best results for supporting I/DD individuals in the community we can’t close the institutions and enhance community based resources that have been proven to work? Well, my answer is the same as Mr. Conway’s: people think we pay too much in taxes and the legislators are spendthrifts. It isn’t long into a conversation with my wife’s step-father before he complains about wasteful state government and legislators that only want to raise our taxes. It isn’t long into a conversation with friends when I explain what I do and how funding works before some say we are paying too much to help people who should just be at home enjoying life with their mom and dad.

To be honest, I am disheartened when we have to cobble together money to pay for our Transition program, helping students who want to work move into the world of work, particularly considering that youth unemployment is so high. Even the new Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), the workforce training arm of the federal department, places a high importance on training our youth for work, recognizing that they have the highest unemployment rate of any age group in our country. Yet finding sufficient support for our Transition program is difficult even though it is a program with more than 20 years of proven success.

I don’t mean to be too simplistic when it comes to national government spending but, it seems to me, that if we want our economy to continue to grow and not lose ground globally then it would make sense to educate and train our youth – tomorrow’s workforce. And this includes youth with disabilities who want to work and be part of the best equipped workforce in the world!

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CEO Viewpoint is published by Jim Larson, CEO Morningside

This space is intended to share my thoughts and update the community on issues concerning Morningside and its clients as well sharing inspirational employment stories.

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Posted in Advocacy, Disability Policy, State Policy