What can hunters and anglers learn from an income tax debate? | Guest op

Sen. Phil Fortunato. COURTESY PHOTO

By Sen. Phil Fortunato, R-Auburn/For the Reporter

In nature, animals blend into their surroundings to avoid predators and capture prey. Deer will blend into the tall grass. Cougars and bears will lie low, still, and hope to be mistaken for shrubs, logs or stone so they can surprise their prey. Their natural camouflage is so fantastic, so complete, that it can be almost impossible for the human eye to detect. That is why sometimes hunters have to find ways to draw them out.

Politicians do that too, except their camouflage is with words. For example, when politicians want to raise your taxes, they will often say that they want to “raise revenue” because “revenue” sounds better than “taxes”– plus “revenue” kind of sounds like something that is going to come from someone else’s pocket. Other times, politicians will say they are seeking a “bipartisan solution” when what they really mean is they are hoping the other side will surrender. So highly evolved is their language of evasion, it can be tough for the human ear to catch the distinctions.

That is why sometimes, taxpayers – and taxpayer advocates – need to draw them out and trick them into speaking or acting plainly so as to show their real inclinations.

When I sponsored an amendment to our state constitution to prohibit an income tax, I knew there would be quite a few politicians in Olympia voting against it. That is because there are many people who do not really oppose an income tax, but oppose people knowing that they support an income tax. They mask themselves with verbal camouflage saying that the people “are not ready for” an income tax, or that “no one is talking about” an income tax, and what they really mean is “we couldn’t get away with inflicting one right now.”

So when my constitutional amendment to ban an income tax was debated on the Senate floor, and I heard a lot of complaining about how “unnecessary” the bill was, how “no one was even talking about an income tax now” and how awful it was that I wanted to tie the hands of future legislators, I knew I was hearing good, old-fashioned political camouflage. It’s par for the course on a controversial subject like taxes, where plainspoken honesty can be in short supply.

Imagine my surprise when not two minutes after I proposed the amendment, a prominent Democrat senator came right out and expressed support for an “income tax.” I admit I was impressed. But the rest of his (or her!) colleagues seemed eager to follow the advice of Mark Twain, who dismissed as superstition the idea that honesty is always the best policy when the “appearance” of honesty is worth so much more.

While every member of the Republican-led Majority Coalition Caucus sided with me on the income tax ban, a whole lot of members on the other side did not. After about a week, I noted that House Democrats proposed a budget that seeks an income tax on capital gains – which is the tried and true seed to plant if you want an even broader income tax. All of which means there has been a whole lot of people who have been talking about an income tax, but they want to keep that conversation very quiet.

They think voters will be fooled if the conversation is about “capital gains” instead of “income.” Maybe they will. But not this voter.

What does this have to do with hunting and fishing? Well, I also cosponsored an amendment to the state constitution that would guarantee our right to fish and our right to hunt. While many of us have grown up with these traditions and expect that our kids and grandkids will pass them on to their kids and grandkids, we have no guarantee. There are those who would like to ban these activities, either by doing it outright or by restricting access to lands, making it increasingly expensive, or using wildlife contraceptives.

Earlier this year, one fellow lawmaker observed there is a “war on rural Washington” when it comes to state regulation and policy. I want to make sure our hunting and fishing family traditions are protected from that war. So while you rarely hear of a politician saying outright that they oppose hunting or fishing, the fact that enough decided that we “don’t need this kind of protection now” means we have to keep a watchful eye on our hunting and fishing traditions.

And keep your other eye on that income tax the House is trying to stick us with.

Reach Sen. Phil Fortunato, R-Auburn, 31st Legislative District, at 360-786-7660 or phil.fortunato@leg.wa.gov.