Testimony on reinstatement of Initiative 747
My name is Andrew Villeneuve, and for the record, I am the Executive Director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, a strategy center, or think tank, working to advance the common good through ideas and action.
I am here today, along with Rick Hegdahl, our Outreach and Advocacy Director, to voice concern over the rush to reinstate Initiative 747, a flawed policy that has diminished home rule and eroded funding for critical public services that we all rely on in our communities.
Rather than taking a thoughtful look at property tax reform and fiscal policy, we are having a one day special session to hurriedly put back on the books what the Supreme Court recently struck down.
Long planned hearings on other matters have been cancelled to make way for a hasty discussion and decision about capping property taxes. This is not in the best interest of Washington State.
Reinstating Initiative 747 without considering past ramifications and potential alternatives, simply because the people approved it decisively six years ago, is not responsible lawmaking.
Interpreting the will of the electorate can be a challenge, particularly because voters’ wishes change over time. The people approved I-747 in 2001 but since then they have sustained an increase in the gas tax (with the defeat of Initiative 912) and restoration of the estate tax (with the defeat of Initiative 920).
Our current situation, in regards to property taxes, is a curious one. While our property taxes are not high compared to other states (Department of Revenue reports show that we’re below the national median) we do have a broken, regressive tax structure that asks many Washingtonians to pay more than their fair share – particularly middle and low income homeowners.
Our tax structure – how we collect revenue - is in need of fixing but for years it has failed to receive the serious attention that it should.
Members of the state Legislature and the executive branch are entrusted by the people to govern wisely and responsibly.
Instead of hurrying to permanently reinstate a thoughtlessly conceived limitation that makes it difficult for municipal leaders to deliver services that the public clearly wants, we urge the members of this committee, and every legislator, to support changing HB 2416 to make reinstatement of I-747 temporary pending a vote of the people next November.
If the will of the people is indeed of utmost importance, then why not allow voters to decide the ultimate fate of Initiative 747?
The Legislature ought to refer this matter to the people and turn its attention to comprehensive, progressive tax reform, which must be a key focus in the 2008 regular session beginning this January.
UPDATE: Here's an addendum to my testimony above that I wrote to include in my presentation to the Senate Ways & Means Committee.
I’d like to briefly touch on something that hasn’t received much attention in this discussion – the harmful impact that Initiative 747 has had on our neighborhoods.
According to the Washington State Department of Revenue, the loss to the state property tax was estimated to total nearly two hundred and twenty three million dollars for the 2005-2007 biennium while losses to local taxing districts totaled almost five hundred and seventy two million dollars.
We can’t have public services for free. Our taxes support the common wealth , which provides us with police, fire, and emergency medical protection, parks and pools for recreation, or schools and libraries for learning.
The Washington Association of Libraries noted in late 2001 in a fact sheet explaining the ramifications of I-747 that library tax district revenue lost through 2007 alone would total a hundred and five million dollars.
The Association also explained in simple terms what happens when funding for public services is cut or limited:
With the revenue limitations imposed by Initiative 747, most libraries — particularly library districts — will be unable to maintain previous service levels. Since their three major expense areas are staffing, library materials, and information technology, library patrons may experience:
- Fewer staff available for assistance, longer lines at checkout and reference desks, fewer special programs, and reduced library hours due to staffing limitations.
- Longer waits for popular materials, a smaller selection of new titles, fewer licensed information databases, and fewer periodical subscriptions due to materials budget limitations.
- Less access to public access computers and increased response times due to technology budget limitations.
As Anne Herbert once is said to have quipped, “Libraries will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no libraries.”
I-747 has hurt our common wealth while failing to address the real problems we face with taxes and fiscal policy.
It’s time we stopped talking about symptoms and started talking about causes.