Growth rates don’t lie – policies put Washington at risk


By Chris Cargill

Just three years ago, I wrote an op-ed warning that political choices and political incompetence could create a mass exodus in Washington state. It was the political center’s most widely read publication that year, hitting Washingtonians fed up with high taxes and government excesses.

It was a pretty obvious prediction. Of course, freedom-conscious people tend to move in search of greater freedom.

In the 2000s and even the 2010s, our state was one of the fastest growing countries. At the time, a 13% growth rate was celebrated as proof that Washington’s rulers were doing something right. But my, how times have changed.

The latest population figures from the US Census Bureau show that Washington’s growth has almost died out. From July 2020 to July 2021, our state’s population growth was anemic 0.3%, a fraction of what it was in previous years.

The numbers are even worse when it comes to national migration, that is, the number of people who have moved from one state to another. Many states gained tens of thousands of new residents, but Washington saw a net reduction of 29 residents. Florida, on the other hand, gained 220,000 people from other states. Close to Idaho? Our neighbors to the east have attracted 48,000 new people. Oregon? This state attracted more than 8,000 new people.

A community that does not grow is dying, and the latest statistics show Washington’s near-term future is bleak.

Idaho has had one of the highest growth rates, in part because lawmakers passed the largest tax cut in state history last year.

U-Haul – the national moving company – says 2 million Americans rented a U-Haul for a one-way move in 2021. The states people moved away from were mostly tax states high and high regulation. Think of California, New York, and Illinois, where taxes are heavy.

The states that received the most inbound traffic (Idaho, Texas, Florida, Tennessee) are low-tax, low-regulation states.

The citizens vote with their feet and they vote very broadly and silently as we speak. Can we really blame them?

Washington was one of only two states to have given no tax relief to its citizens in the past year. In fact, lawmakers here have raised taxes.

Washington remains not only under one-party rule, but under one-man rule. Governor Jay Inslee has ruled with solo emergency powers for almost two years now. Today the legislature has little control over what the executive does.

Washington is the only state to adopt an income tax that begins with capital gains.

Washington is the only state to pass a new payroll tax for long-term care.

State bureaucrats messed up the state unemployment insurance system, losing millions of dollars in taxes to Nigerian crooks.

The Washington State Teachers Union dominates public schools, emphasizing funding for empty classroom buildings and seats rather than children.

Homeless people are taking to the streets of our state’s three largest cities – state and local officials appearing unwilling or unable to do anything about it.

The list goes on. For those of us who grew up in Washington and are raising families there, the decline of Evergreen State is heartbreaking.

What can lawmakers do to make a difference? The repeal of the new state income tax would be a good start.

Giving families control over the money spent on education would be another step forward.

The return of a normal democracy would also help.

Our state’s flat growth rate is not permanent. Even modest positive political changes can stimulate interest in our state.

But without fundamental change, Washington runs the risk of losing a chance for a better future.

Chris Cargill is the Eastern Washington director of the Washington Policy Center, an independent research organization with offices in Spokane, Seattle, Tri-Cities and Olympia. Online at Members of the Cowles family, owners of The Spokesman-Review, have previously organized fundraisers for the Washington Policy Center and serve on the organization’s board of directors.


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