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Washington hasn't had a state income tax since 1933, but in a TV commercial that's also on the Web, Gates Sr. takes a plunge into a dunk tank, surrounded by kids having a wonderful time. Soaking wet, he says, "Some people say Initiative 1098 is about soaking the rich. But it's really about doing something for the next generation. You see, state cutbacks have put our kids at risk, and we can't just sit here and do nothing about it."
Of course, life's not that simple: not all the wealthy are in favor of being "soaked." Steve Ballmer, Microsoft's chief executive; Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com; and John Nordstrom of the luxury department store chain are firmly against it, and spending big to have their say.
The proposal is similar to President Barack Obama's; it would tax gross income above $200,000 for individuals and $400,000 for couples, and take the resulting $2 billion per year and sink it into health care and education. Small businesses and property owners would come in for a tax reduction.
Neighboring Oregon "easily" passed a 'tax-the-rich' law earlier in the year, and raised taxes for corporations, too. But Washington has used its income tax-free status to attract business, and some are crying foul.
The jury is still out, but Gates reminds people that the strategy has been around for a long time. And the small businesses that will benefit from the tax cuts attached to the measure are looking forward to a break.