Rep. My-Linh Thai (D-41, Bellevue), sponsor of Working Families Tax Exemption bill. Image via House Democrats.
by Leo Brine
Democrats continue to advance a slew of progressive bills this legislative session aimed, they say, at making Washington more equitable. While last week’s headlines dramatized the news that Senate Democrats passed a capital gains tax, a longstanding progressive agenda item, House Democrats were busy ushering through a major lefty item as well, the Working Families Tax Exemption bill (WFTE). Like the capital gains tax, the WFTE legislation would alleviate the pressure the state’s regressive tax system puts on low-income Washingtonians. In this instance: by giving roughly 500,000 of Washington’s lowest-income residents a tax rebate ranging from $500 to $950.
Both bills are longstanding items on the progressive wish list. The WFTE has existed as a state-level benefit program since 2008, but it was never funded because of the recession that hit late that year. The successful House vote this past Tuesday, March 9, backed the bill for the first time with dollars from the general fund. That money will be allocated when the house rolls out its budget later this month. The Department of Revenue estimates the program will cost roughly $18 million to administer during the 2021-2023 biennium and pay out $250 million to about 420,000 residents, according to a fiscal note from the Department of Revenue.
“There’s been a large effort from the community to show lawmakers how regressive our tax system is,” said Andy Nicholas, senior fellow at the Washington State Budget and Policy Center. Nicholas says awareness of how regressive Washington’s tax system is has grown over time and now politicians understand the effects of regressive taxes on many of Washington’s underserved communities.
Thai was elected to represent the 41 district in 2018 and became the first refugee in Washington’s history to serve in the house of representatives.
Rep. My-Linh Thai (D-41, Bellevue), the sponsor of the WFTE legislation, represents a former Republican stronghold that gradually shifted to swing turf in the 2000s, before eventually turning blue in the late 2010s.
Bellevue’s population continues to grow more diverse. According to the 2000 U.S. census, Bellevue was a largely white community: 74 percent of the city’s residents were white, with Asian Americans, the second-largest group, making up 17 percent of the population. As of 2018, however, Bellevue is 35 percent Asian Americans and white residents make up 49 percent of the population. Bellevue also has a large immigrant population, with 38 percent of the city’s residents being foreign-born.