By Brandon Nobles/Brandon is a grad of the University of Washington with a degree in English and Humanities. He is a current online teacher and is also an active member of the 7th District and Stevens County Democratic parties.
Current Spokane Valley State Representative Matt Shea—whose known antics and outspokenness in the media and at the state house could possibly cause one to see him as Northeast Washington’s own Donald Trump—has again introduced a bill into the state legislature calling for Washington to be cut through the Cascades into two. Shea’s new name for the eastern portion would be Liberty and could possibly include parts of North Idaho and Eastern Oregon. This call for a separation has been around since Washington became a state and has and continues to be quite popular within more rural parts of the region. The argument claims that Eastern Washington is vastly different in terms of culture, economy and values than the western part of the state, justifying this fracturing so the east could finally follow their own path instead of being dominated politically by the liberal and overly pro-environment Puget Sound. However, this bill and the arguments it is based on ignores some key components that breaking off from the west could and most likely would spell out economic doom for the east.
A grand myth that is floated around by proponents of this type of legislation is that the west has taken advantage of the east with high taxes and utilizes those taxes only for western luxuries such as an expensive ferry system, interstate projects, sports stadiums and various other pork spending. This myth falls flat in light of the evidence of what side pays in comparison of what they spend. One study has shown that the vast majority of Eastern Washington counties were taking in a great deal more tax revenue than they sent to Olympia into the State’s General Fund.
For instance, Stevens County took in $2.23 for every tax dollar they sent in compared to $0.63 for Seattle, even with Seattle’s many public expenditures. It translates the same with most Puget Sound counties compared to Eastern Washington counties. Without the tax funds from the westside, an independent eastside would either have to cut back on the current and underfunded services they already have, or raise taxes substantially on the new population of the state of Liberty. The amount the east takes from the west most likely could not even be funded via an increase in a consumption tax with sales, so an independent Eastern Washington would most likely have to implement a state-wide state income tax (like many red states, but dreaded by many Eastern Washington voters) to keep up with their own current expenditures.
The pro-independent eastside activists argue that expenditures could be stabilized by raising recreation fees and taxes for western residents who currently use the east as a tourist playground. The issue with this argument is that it does not take into account any sort of cultural or economic retaliation from the west. The west could very well look for other recreational hotspots to sport about in, particularly if fees were raised and a common statehood bond was broken with them by the east. There is also the issue of access to the ports of the Puget Sound. Eastern Washington’s largest economy is extractive and heavy western imposed interstate tariffs and fees, or limited access to coastal ports could spell out economic disaster, particularly in terms of lumber and agricultural exports. Plus, there would be the loss of many state programs that the west subsidizes such as wildfire prevention, fish stocking, and other programs that keep the eastside’s recreation industry well and alive, but the east would not be able to afford alone.
This is not to say that the eastside does not have anything to offer the west. It is part of an economically symbiotic relationship with the west in terms of rail, exports, agricultural production, and recreation. It just shows that the east has quite a bit to lose if it decides to secede; it would essentially be a legislative, “This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.” Separation simply does not make sense. To look at it from a national perspective, if every rural part of every state separated from their urban counterparts based on culture and economy, we would end up with over a 1000 plus states. But just as with how rural parts of the nations showed their resentment with the urbanites in the last election, is the same here as the east certainly does have a right to resent the west on certain issues. The east is left bearing the economic burdens of many regulations and programs, and the west’s environmental policies—while much needed for the polluted Puget Sound—can hinder commercial growth for a job hungry and impoverished east. Western politicians, particularly Democratic ones, could and should come to the rural parts of the east to educate themselves on what their fellow Washingtonians value and how they live. This would not just raise awareness that the rural east needs certain exceptions to growth regulations so they can bloom and grow—planning management for Seattle does not make sense for Chewelah for example—but also could encourage a renewal in a Democratic base for this region, one that was in place in the not so distant past when Democratic House Speaker and congressman Tom Foley was elected for multiple terms in this district. We do not require a division, as the trouble with both sides of the state can be solved far better with a scalpel than with a splitting maul. Only then can both sides thrive and succeed, and we could finally rid ourselves of all this patronizing and resentment that causes bills like Shea’s to actually be considered.