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.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Reinstatement of Initiative 747 cap may only be temporary, legislators say

If the Legislature passes a bill to reinstate Initiative 747 this Thursday in special session, it may include an expiration date, NPI has learned.

Several legislators, keenly aware that I-747's draconian cap on property taxes is bad public policy, are working on a proposal to include a sunset clause in the legislation requested by the governor before it leaves the House and Senate.

The idea behind the sunset language is to ensure that I-747 would be back on the books only temporarily, giving the Legislature time to hammer out an alternative that would actually address our broken and unfair tax structure.

During the 2008 session, the House and Senate would then develop legislation that reforms the collection of property taxes by providing greater stability and fairness. This proposal might include ideas like a circuit breaker or homestead exemption.

The final version of the legislation, after leaving the statehouse with the Governor's approval, would be placed on the ballot in 2008 for the people to decide, either as a constitutional amendment or a statutory referendum.

A vote for this revenue neutral measure would mean property tax savings for most Washingtonians, without accompanying cutbacks in public services. It could also mean residents would enjoy less fluctuation and greater predictability in their property tax bills from year to year.

A vote against would be to preserve the status quo - right wing fiscal policy, an Initiative 747 style cap, and our regressive, outdated tax structure.

Putting I-747 back only temporarily provides an escape for Democratic legislators who feel they're caught between a rock and a hard place - people like Senator Craig Pridemore, who wrote this to Senate colleagues last night:
I know a lot of you were interested in finding an alternative to simply reinstating I-747 on Thursday and I had hoped to provide you with one.

After profound review and after the past few days of getting hammered (including by close friends and family), it's immensely clear to me that I don't have the political support in my own district to carry out a fight like this. I know I could have survived it under normal crcumstances [sic], but I can't when I'm standing against a Democratic Governor AND against Democratic Senate and House leadership. It's hard to tell people this is bad for local governments when so many Democrats are smiling and saying it's no big deal. :-)

I'm not sure how I'll vote yet. If I vote No to reinstating it, I know my political future will be over after this term (next year). If I vote Yes, I'm not sure I really want to do this any more anyway. I obviously have a lot of soul-searching to do... again.
Temporary reinstatement gives the Legislature (and the Governor) breathing room - time to research ideas, consider public input, and hone better policy without being deluged by angry middle and low income homeowners who feel they're already contributing their fair share in taxes to the common wealth.

The (Spokane) Spokesman-Review recently editorialized in support of alternatives to Initiative 747, pointing out that Eyman has greater power because Olympia has avoided addressing the issue. From their November 20th editorial:
[I]t would be irresponsible and strategically unwise to merely re-install the cap and be done with it. Doing so would not end the resentment over the rise in property taxes, a frustration that had boiled over before the tax cap was thrown out. Plus, it would keep initiative peddler Tim Eyman in the catbird seat.

Lawmakers should take this opportunity to undercut Eyman by reducing taxes on most homeowners and renters by slightly raising the property tax rates on those who aren't struggling to pay. Lawmakers could do this and still stay within the overall 1 percent cap.

Currently, property taxes consume about 6 percent of household income for the 40 percent of households in low- to middle-income categories. Those at the top of the income ladder pay about 3 percent of their income on such taxes.


If the Legislature could cut property taxes for most households, it would undermine the populist appeal of constant tax-slashing initiatives. Eyman would then be put in the position of decrying tax cuts for people who aren't having difficulty paying them. Plus, a large number of voters would be less inclined to take out their frustrations on school districts' bond and levy issues.
As the special session draws nearer it is imperative that those of us who believe in progressive tax reform speak up and encourage the Democratic caucuses in Olympia to support a sunset clause on reinstatement of I-747 - to be succeeded by development of a responsible alternative that can be placed before the people on the 2008 general ballot.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The I-747 redo is a bad idea that's time has come...and gone.
This 6 year old law needs to be re-evaluated.

Their time could be better spent on replacing our 80 year old rust bucket ferry boats.

November 28, 2007 7:59 PM  

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