Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Tim Eyman's I-1033 would preemptively snuff out any hope for tax reform

One of the reasons that we consider Initiative 1033 to be the most dangerous measure that Tim Eyman has ever offered is that its main consequence - the freezing of budgets and public services at current recession levels - has a whole host of very ugly side effects. One of those side effects concerns tax reform.

As readers know, tax reform is a top priority of ours, and it's a challenge the Legislature has repeatedly failed to address, because, well, there are no easy solutions, and easy solutions are about the only thing the Legislature can agree on. (That's why legislators so often take what I will figuratively call the lowest road. It may be a study, the creation of a blue ribbon commission, accounting tricks, or a budget which ends up leaving those Washingtonians who are the least well-represented with the shortest straw).

Tax reform is, however, imperative because our state's tax structure is incredibly regressive. Previous Tim Eyman initiatives have resulted in the loss of vehicle fees and draconian limits on the amount of property taxes that the state, its counties, and cities can collect. As a result, we are now heavily dependent on the sales tax, which fluctuates based on consumer spending.

So ironically, it is Tim Eyman who deserves some of the blame for our fiscal instability. Eyman, of course, will say voters approved his initiatives on vehicle fees and property taxes. That's true, but voters also just reelected the Governor and the Legislature, who he blames, wrongly, for the size of the deficit. He's wrongly blaming them but we can rightly assign him some of the blame for being an irresponsible citizen who should know better.

All Governor Gregoire and the Legislature did in past bienniums was make investments that the people of this state were demanding, in schools, environmental protection, healthcare, and so on. When they raised the gas tax, the right wing threw a fit and ran an initiative to overturn that investment in better roads. Tim Eyman boldly predicted passage of the repeal attempt, Initiative 912. Instead, voters affixed their seal of approval to the Legislature's investment.

When they restored the estate tax the right wing threw another fit and put Initiative 920 on the ballot. Voters again said no, vindicating the Legislature and affixing another seal of approval to an important investment in public schools.

So when Tim Eyman claims there's a "tax revolt", he's wrong. The people of this state don't want to dismantle our common wealth as Eyman claims. What they do want is for taxes to be assessed and collected fairly. People understandably don't want to have to pay more than their fair share. Eyman's initiatives purposely do not address this; if they did, Eyman could not stay in business.

He needs voters to feel angry and resentful towards government, so that he has negative emotions to exploit, year after year.

Initiative 1033 is purposely designed to create a favorable environment for Eyman by making government not work and wrecking the gears of representative democracy. Paralysis is good for Eyman's profit machine.

If I-1033 passes, it would preemptively snuff out any hope of meaningful tax reform. There would be no point in doing away with outdated tax exemptions, for example, because the revenue regained by the state would have to go into the wealth redistribution fund that Initiative 1033 sets up.

That wealth redistribution fund is where any revenue above what was collected this year goes, into a giveaway fund for rich property owners, rather than our common wealth. I-1033 is an outrageous wealth transfer.

I-1033 would also obviate any chance of easing the pain of future budget cuts with new revenue, a possibility that Governor Gregoire now says she is open to:
"My number one concern right now ... is how do we do the cuts? How do we get there?" she told reporters at a news conference this morning. "There are no good options because the cuts are either social services, corrections, health care or education."

The governor said she's told legislative leaders to make their case for taxes, including the possibility of sending voters a proposal.

"I didn't want revenue last year because I couldn't figure out how you could do a revenue package that wouldn't hurt the economy. I'm still stuck in that rut but I've told leadership to come make your case," Gregoire said.

"I've told them come on in and convince me that's the right thing to do and that people will support it. At some point the people, I assume, don't want us to take any more cuts. I'm already hearing about 'why did you cut education?' Well there aren't any options."
There's really no chance the Legislature would have the courage to even ask voters to approve a referendum raising revenue if I-1033 passes.

It won't happen.

So if the existing situation, with all of these awful budget cuts, if that seems bleak, brace yourself for Initiative 1033. If it goes into effect we will all be living in a fiscal nightmare for years as budgets and essential public services become frozen under a thick layer of artificial ice. That ice will be impervious to any new revenue that isn't approved by voters in an election.

That is what it is so galling about Initiative 1033. It robs our common wealth of future revenue, siphoning off money that should be going to schools and instead funneling it directly into the pockets of rich people, like Eyman donor and Bellevue Square owner Kemper Freeman Jr.

I-1033 prevents one hundred percent of our sales taxes from going into our public treasury in subsequent years. Anything above the amount that went in this year would have to go into the wealth redistribution fund, which would eventually be principally divided between rich people.

Homeowners would be ripped off and renters completely scammed.

I-1033 is a reverse Robin Hood scheme designed to help the rich at the expense of small businesses, family farms, and working people.

When the side effects are considered, it becomes apparent that Initiative 1033 is really an evil triple whammy: It freezes over the services we all rely on to prosper in our daily lives, it punishes anyone who isn't already rich by funneling the tax dollars it siphons to them, and it has been cunningly designed to prevent our state from doing any tax reform or saving for a rainy day.

So it's like a virus that has mutated and - once it has infected the body - cannot be dealt with through traditional means.

The only way to prevent the Initiative 1033 virus from wreaking havoc on Washington is to prevent it from getting into our system in the first place.

Vote NO on Initiative 1033.

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