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Originally published March 3, 2010 at 4:28 PM | Page modified March 5, 2010 at 3:46 PM

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Guest columnist

Washington lawmakers must be brave and help those in need into lifeboats

Washington state lawmakers should be courageous and raise taxes to help those in need, writes guest columnist Richard Gamble.

Special to The Times

FRANK was an aging disabled man who sometimes slept in his vehicle near my church. For a very long time before he finally got into subsidized housing he suffered through the cold Seattle nights. His housing costs him one third of his $339 a month General Assistance Unemployable disability check.

With the money and the health care provided by GAU and the subsidized housing, Frank is making it ... barely. Without some courageous choices made by our legislators, Frank will lose his tiny check and health insurance, and additional housing for people still sleeping in tents or vehicles will not be built this year.

When the Titanic sank, people were thrown into the icy waters of the North Atlantic. While they were crying out for aid, others sat in lifeboats that could have taken on many more passengers. Fearing overcrowding, the boats stayed at a distance while hundreds drowned and froze. Only two of the 18 lifeboats went back to pick up survivors. Lifeboat ethics: keep safe and ignore the needs of those not in your lifeboat.

Many of those who strive to sound moderate but oppose increasing taxes use the historically shaky logic of timing. Don't pass taxes when times are tough, they say, wait until the times are better.

If you live cut off from people with real needs, this logic sounds sensible. But if your family needs medical care, if you are disabled and cannot work, if you are homeless and sleeping out in the rain, and the programs you need desperately are about to be cut, things look very different.

The vague fear about a possible future slowdown in recovery pales in comparison to the real needs of people now. People who are on Social Security should be glad political leaders in the past had the courage to create that program during the Great Depression in 1935. Taxes for that program began being collected in 1937. The original 1935 law also contained the first national unemployment-compensation program, aid to the states for various health and welfare programs, and the Aid to Dependent Children program.

When times are difficult, is exactly the time to think about those who are most in need. It makes no sense to cut programs for the most vulnerable of our fellow citizens during an economic downturn. Tough times are when such programs should be enhanced.

I applaud those who have shown the courage to overturn Initiative 960, a tax-restraining initiative. They did so knowing they make themselves targets for lifeboaters, but knowing that failure to do so will cause harm to those who are most at risk. Placing the needs of vulnerable citizens over political expediency deserves high praise.

I would like to think that had I been in a lifeboat when the Titanic went down, I would have been in one of the two boats that went back and saved people's lives. I have been blessed with a job and roof over my head. I have a seat in the current economic lifeboat. I know we have room in our economy for the taxes required to extend aid to those in need. Let's not let irrational fears deafen us to their cries.

The Rev. Richard Gamble is the pastor of Keystone United Church of Christ

(www.keystoneseattle.org).

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