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.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

With Initiative 747's demise, what's next?

Following this morning's court ruling which struck down Initiative 747 in its entirety, many people are predictably calling for Tim Eyman's 2001 measure to be partially or completely reinstated by the Legislature. Even Governor Christine Gregoire has released a statement alluding to the idea.

But reimposing I-747 style limits, even if they're somewhat less draconian, would be a mistake; the wrong way to respond to what is a serious problem.

The tax structure we've got now is broken, poorly set up, and unfair. Change is needed: the status quo is unacceptable for Washington families. But that change needs to make a positive difference, not make the current situation worse than it already is. Our communities suffered under the poorly conceived limits that were enforced while Initiative 747 was on the books.

The response to today's court ruling needs to be on new, creative solutions that address our two biggest problems with property taxes today: the lack of stability and fairness. Eyman-style tax cuts don't tackle either of these challenges - they just de-fund our common wealth and hurt our communities.

We can't treat symptoms. We have to start looking at causes.

Middle and lower income families in Washington State are concerned about property taxes for good reason: they're paying more than their fair share and they don't know what to expect year to year because our economy (including the housing market) can be so unpredictable. Uncertainty causes anxiety, anxiety causes taxpayers to be leery of new revenue increases and be more receptive to the schemes peddled by Tim Eyman, whether they make governing more difficult or simply slice away revenue.

The people want something done. If Democrats don't seize the opportunity to get out and lead, the right wing agenda prevails in the ensuring vacuum.

Democrats must pass legislation this session that deals with this predicament. And that legislation must be built on Democratic values and principles. Democrats must avoid the familiar and disastrous path that the Republican caucus and Tim Eyman will try to push them down. It's time to build our own trail and thoughtfully resolve this quandary.

There are many possibilities for legislators to consider... solutions that can provide help to families without hurting our common wealth.

In other words, ideas that lower property taxes for middle and lower income families without depleting any funding for public services.

For example, a homestead exemption, which lowers the bill for a citizen's primary residence by excluding a portion of the assessed value of the home from being taxed. Homestead exemptions are employed across the United States to make property taxes fairer. Or, a circuit breaker, which is essentially a graduated tax credit that applies whenever property taxes go over a predetermined percentage of a family's combined income.

(A circuit breaker, unlike a homestead exemption, can help renters as well as homeowners but would likely be more complicated to implement here.)

Because these proposals are revenue neutral, the wealthiest Washingtonians would see a slight increase in their taxes, but the impact to those citizens would be relatively insignificant considering the size of their incomes. It's not unreasonable to ask our most financially secure citizens to pay their fair share. That's what these solutions are about: fairness.

There are also prospects for stabilizing property taxes that we're just starting to learn more about. The benefit of a more stable tax structure is that all property owners would be able to better calculate their bills from year to year, greatly reducing uncertainty and assisting families with their fiscal planning or budgeting.

Paired together, well crafted solutions that improve stability and fairness would eliminate problems with property taxes and move us closer to progressive tax reform. We will do everything we can to ensure that's the direction we head in.


Blogger Fred said...

Food for thought. When you allow the government to tax your property (real estate), you no longer own your property. I say this because if you don’t pay your property taxes they seize your property and sell it. You only have the right to transfer title to the property you no longer own it.

November 9, 2007 11:10 AM  

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