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.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Governor should be looking at progressive alternatives to I-747

Following her decision to call a special session to ask the Legislature to reinstate Tim Eyman's draconian Initiative 747, Governor Gregoire explained to the Associated Press' David Ammons why she didn't want to wait to address the matter:
Gregoire said her series of community visits this fall made it clear that people are worried about getting taxed out of their homes.

“I know local government has a compelling argument, but we have citizens dealing with dramatic increases and I can’t see standing by and letting them get run out of their home.”
Gregoire and other Democrats have the wrong mindset. They're trapped inside the right wing's framing of fiscal issues.

It's so easy to forget that we live in a democracy: the common wealth belongs to all of us. It's our government: of the people, by the people, and for the people. When we or our representatives choose to starve public services, we're only hurting ourselves.

Conservatives and libertarians pooh-pooh the idea that tax cuts and limits hurt our communities. You'll hear common refrains like: "government should live within its means" and "we passed I-747, the sky didn't fall".

These talking points ignore reality. The impact of Initiative 747 isn't a giant hole, it's death by a thousand cuts. Local governments can only backfill for so long: some are already in serious trouble. Take basic infrastructure that's decaying, like water mains - the pipes that bring fresh water into homes.

Gregoire isn't making the connection between government and the people it serves. She says local government has a "compelling argument". If that's true, then why isn't she listening to the municipal leaders and citizens who are pointing out the inconvenient truth about these harmful right wing policies?

Are property taxes in Washington a major issue that needs to be addressed? Absolutely. But there are progressive alternatives to the destructive, Grover Norquist and Tim Eyman-style draconian limits embodied in Initiative 747. And Gregoire isn't considering them.

We agree that people should have more certainty about property taxes. We agree our tax structure needs to be fairer and more stable. There are sensible ways to accomplish both goals. If Gregoire was smart, she would stop following the instructions of Dino Rossi, Tim Eyman, and the right wing, and start leading by supporting or investigating better ideas.

Like a circuit breaker, or a homestead exemption (to make property taxes fairer) or a value-averaging constitutional amendment (to make property taxes more stable).

Some legislators fortunately realize that reinstating Initiatve 747 would be a big mistake, and are expressing their concern, as we are, about what the Governor and Speaker Chopp (who sides with her) are doing. The thoughtless rush to put the limit back has serious consequences, as Senator Craig Pridemore told David Postman:
The call for a special session makes it very difficult to formulate a responsible alternative and still get time to build support for it.
Musing about Initiative 747 earlier today, Postman (the Seattle Times' chief political reporter) wrote:
It seems unlikely that the anti-747 forces will have much influence in the special session. I wonder, though, what happens next year when Eyman will push yet another initiative. Are we to believe the horror stories opponents will tell about what will happen? And what to think when legislators -- who next month will likely approve a 1 percent limit -- next complain about the difficulties of governing by initiative?

There are those on the left who have long tried to say that Eyman is washed up. But the truth is he continues to be a powerful force in Washington. The Supreme Court can't stop him. And now one of the largest Democratic majorities to ever run the Legislature has signed on to his team.
Postman's conclusions, just like the mindset of Gregoire and Chopp, are tainted by right wing framing. Just look at the language that's been used, like the "horror stories" reference, contained within a question. The phrase "horror stories" and the context used suggest exaggeration, hyperbole, and unfounded fears of a crisis.

"Are we to believe... [what] opponents will tell about what will happen?" Postman asks. Why isn't he asking equally skeptical questions of this policy's proponents? The person responsible for sponsoring these recycled libertarian schemes (Tim Eyman) is well known for deceiving the press, the people of Washington State, and even his own supporters!

Characterizing the problematic ramifications of this policy as "horror stories" is accepting right wing framing of this issue into the public discourse. That's not what we expect from a newpaper that considers itself to be objective.

Postman says that Eyman "continues to be a powerful force in Washington". If this is true, why have so many of his recent initiatives been failures? He couldn't get anything on the ballot in 2006 despite having put real effort into two measures - one to legalize discrimination and another to gut transportation funding. His latest measure is only passing narrowly despite a favorable ballot title and an opposition coalition that wasn't as organized as it should have been.

The reason Eyman has had such an impact on pushing for reinstatement of Initiative 747 is because Democratic leaders like Gregoire haven't stepped up to the plate to tackle this issue. Property taxes are a problem, one that won't go away no matter how much Olympia wishes it would. If there's a vacuum, then Tim Eyman becomes more powerful, because he's offering an idea (even if it's bad).

Which brings us back to alternatives. Had Gregoire embraced exploring ideas like a circuit breaker, she could have demonstrated her resolve to act without having to betray Democratic values and giving credibility to her Republican opponent.

Postman goes on to say "The Supreme Court can't stop him." That's something I would expect to see written by an Eyman supporter. The Supreme Court's role isn't to "stop" people like Eyman from accomplishing their agenda. The Court's role is to interpret the law and our Constitution. The Court cannot simply decide to invalidate Eyman's initiatives. It only decides a question when a suit is brought.

We can thank the plaintiffs in each of the successful lawsuits for the result.

The right wing likes to say that the state Supreme Court is full of activist, elitist liberals who want to squash the will of the people. It's a myth. Unfortunately, David Postman's wording here accepts that frame.

Postman concludes by saying "one of the largest Democratic majorities to ever run the Legislature has signed on to his team".

This sentence implies that the entire caucus - or at least most of it - is going to go along with Eyman's demands. That may happen and it will be a shame if it does. But the votes have not been counted yet.

And even if elected Democrats are surrendering on this issue, it doesn't mean they've adopted Eyman's ideology.

Postman's word choice throughout the last two paragraphs in this post is disappointing, just like the sorry Initiative 747 mess the Olympia Democratic establishment is leaving in place by hurrying to reimpose a draconian policy that damages our communities and lets our property tax dilemma continue to fester.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Someone should make sure the entire Democratic caucus reads your insightful article. This would happen if it were reprinted in the Democratic Daily Clips compiled by the caucus staff in Olympia and delivered to every legislator's desk.

I am alarmed and upset that the Governor would call a special session for this reason. It means that there will be no hearings, and that progressive opponents won't have the opportunity to organize or to be heard.

Funding government in this state is obviously a complex issue--one that cannot and should not be revised in a one-day session. It's absurd to think anything good can come of purposely short-circuiting the process of deliberative government. Without a balanced set of tax sources, including a progressive income tax, we remain unbalanced on a two-legged stool of sales tax and property tax. Courageous lawmakers will refuse to be stampeded until committee hearings are held and all alternatives are on the table.

Sarajane Siegfriedt

November 21, 2007 2:24 AM  

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