E Pluribus Unum
Wednesday, May 15, 2019
E PLURIBUS UNUM: While large parts of the rest of the country are aggressively trying to roll back the 20th Century—relitigating civil and personal liberties, voter suffrage, and refighting the Civil War and Crusades—the West Coast is employing states’ rights to create a better, more productive and creative society. And Washington is leading the charge.
As New York Times columnist and National Book Award-winning author Timothy Egan noted in a column last week, “To Trump, everything ‘Out West’ is like occupied territory. Almost daily, he issues legal missives and executive orders intended in some way to make life worse on the West Coast.
“But here’s the good news for E Pluribus Unum: He’s losing. Badly. The West Coast is crushing it against Trump. Using the law to fight a bully, the Constitution to challenge an authoritarian, and facts against Fox News-driven fantasy, California, Oregon, and Washington have stalled some of the most despicable of Trump’s retrograde policies.”
Certainly that’s been true across broad areas of public policy. Federal judges have repeatedly sided with the West against Trump attacks on air pollution, toxic pesticides and oil drilling. His administration has all but surrendered on attempts to rewrite clean water law and protections for endangered species. Assaults on providers of reproductive health care and family planning have been blown apart by the courts. And Trump’s attempts to destroy protections against immigrants and refugees have been reduced to little more than petty tantrums tweeted from the White House.
Washington’s attorney general, Bob Ferguson, has filed 36 lawsuits against the Trump administration and has not lost a single case.
But more than just passive resistance and stalling for time, the Left Coast has continued to advance a social dialogue well underway before the reactionary revanchism of the Trump years.
The produce from a strong legislative majority (and the first to finish on time in more than a decade) has begun to roll across the governor’s desk for his signature into law.
Among these, Washington became the first state in the nation to launch a public heath care option and long-term health care program. The effort pushes back against attempts by President Trump and congressional Republicans to undermine the Affordable Care Act, and ensures affordable insurance options for residents through the state’s Health Benefits Exchange.
“This builds on work we’ve done over the past several years to expand and protect health care under the Affordable Care Act,” Governor Jay Inslee said. “While our state continues to help lead the national fight for health care for all, this is one way our state is taking action now to ensure affordable care for more people.”
The long-term care security act is a companion policy, similar in design to a Social Security or Medicare payroll benefit. Because Medicare doesn’t cover long-term care, the benefit supports the growing numbers of workers and families who do not have long-term care-insurance and find themselves unable to pay for necessary health and care services.
Backers say the state-defined plans will be up to 10 percent cheaper than comparable private insurance thanks to a cap on rates paid to doctors and hospitals. But unlike existing government-managed plans like Medicare, Washington’s plans will be available for purchase without an income limit.
The core proposition of Washington’s overall plan, dubbed Cascade Care, is that it will save consumers money by capping payments to doctors, hospitals and other health care providers. This is an especially important consideration in Washington’s rural counties, many of which were already hit hardest by health care cost increases.
An issue like health care rightly belongs in the national domain, due to the complexity of providers across state lines as well as the much larger distribution of the insurance risk pool among tens of millions of users—as opposed to hundreds of thousands of state residents. The cost and financial risk to a state to lead on an issue where the federal goverment fails to lead (and in fact assumes a posture that is hostile and corrosive to that effort) can be prodigious.
To that end, Democrats in the Legislature last session attempted to address the state’s fearsomely regressive and mostly broken revenue profile, which is heavily dependent on sales tax on goods while the fastest growing portions of the state economy are services that remain mostly untaxed. Their work in this area was certainly a mixed bag and of limited success.
Their efforts include a new graduated real estate excise tax to replace the state’s regressive flat tax rate of 1.28 percent. Sellers of homes valued between $500,000 and $1.5 million will continue to pay 1.28 percent, but homes selling for between $1.5 million and $3 million will be taxed at 2.75 percent. Those over $3 million will be taxed at 3 percent.
And a new slate of taxes attempt to draw revenues from formerly minimally taxed service businesses, such as legal, insurance, engineering and smaller software companies.
Will these cause a drag on the state economy?
Certainly that’s possible, but as Egan writes, “Talent and capital can go anywhere. It’s drawn to the West Coast, because creativity doesn’t grow well in nurseries of fear and tired thinking. Washington was named the best state for business in 2017, and the best place for workers in 2018.”
That’s the right reward for trying to make a better place to live on the Left Coast.