UpZones #21: Joe Nguyen

Upisode 21: State Legislature candidate Joe Nguyen swings by to talk about the dynamics of being an underdog, how to build momentum around a shared goal, and being the potential first Vietnamese American ever elected to the Legislature. Joe tells Ian stories from his childhood as the son of refugees, including having to janitor at his own high school and being the one to find his father after a tragic accident.

About Joe Nguyen

A lifelong resident of Seattle born and raised in the White Center/Burien communities, Joe is the son of Vietnamese refugees who settled in Washington in the wake of the Vietnam War; he claims it was only through the assistance of an open refugee policy nd generous social services that his family was able to thrive in the US.

A candidate for Washington State’s 34th Legislative District — if he wins he would beome the first representative of color from one of Washington State’s most ethnically diverse districts, and the first Vietnamese-American official elected to state office in Washington history — Joe is also the chair of Wellspring Family Services’ Associate Board, which works on issues related to family homelessness and has committed to housing 2,000 children and their families in the next two years. Part of the board’s work includes advocacy, and we were able to pass Wellspring’s first bill (HB2861) providing support for trauma-informed care, which was signed by Governor Inslee in the 2018 session. Joe has also been heavily involved with police relations as a member of the Community Advisory Committee for the Office of Law Enforcement Oversight in King County, whose work focuses on building bridges between community and law enforcement to achieve equitable policing.

By day, Joe is a Senior Manager at Microsoft, working to provide job training that supports all people with the skills needed to succeed in this rapidly changing, technologically dependent economy.  He is a father of two children, 1 and 3, and lives in West Seattle with his wife, Tallie, a Highline Public Schools teacher.

During our wide-ranging conversation with Joe, the topic drifted to taxes; specifically, the average citizen’s basic misunderstanding of just how low (overall) and just how regressive (for the working class) taxes in Washington State really are.  A commonly heard refrain, whether on social media or in City Council hearings, is “how expensive it is to live in King County” — often property taxes are at the heart of that argument.  In fact, tax rates in the Seattle/King County region are distinctly middle-of-the-pack; the economic benefits and opportunities that accrue to residents of the county are actually significantly higher relative to the taxes paid than almost any other metro in the country, and certainly within Washington State.

Property tax rates have come down across WA, including in King County (courtesy of Tableau).

Add this to the common mischaracterization about taxes over time — many Seattlites believe property taxes are increasing.  And they are, as a three-year nominal blip, mostly driven by the incredible equity gains for all homeowners in the region.  However, property taxes remain at historical lows (see above and below charts), wherein property owners are actually paying a lower rate relative to the value of their homes than almost any time in recent history.

Residents often bemoan the nominal increase in property taxes in WA without a rate or “percent” figure for context.  Another way to look at tax rates is the chart to the left; while property values, largely driven by supply scarcity, are at all-time highs, property tax rates as a percentage of home values are at local lows only matched during the Great Recession.  Nguyen enthusiastically shared this chart as a way of showing the disconnect in the policymaking arena between those whose wealth has grown due to the Seattle industrial boom and those for whom taking an ever-greater tax burden — usually in the form of regressive usage fees or sales tax — is the only way to acquire the social services necessary to live in the region.

We hope readers inthe 34th will at least check out Joe’s platform and decide for themselves whether he’s the right candidate, but the facts are not subjective — Seattle homeowners pay a lower tax rate than ever, and the burden to fund city services is shifting to renters and the working class more and more every day.

Episodes of UpZones Air Every Monday.
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