6 Engines and 30 Firemen fight a fire in Pullman, Washington
6 Engines and 30 Firemen fight a fire in Pullman, Washington

Yes­ter­day, the Sen­ate Com­mit­tee on State Gov­ern­ment held a hear­ing on leg­is­la­tion that would replace Tim Eyman’s arbi­trary cap on prop­er­ty tax­es with more rea­son­able lim­its tied to dri­vers of local gov­ern­ments’ costs. The leg­is­la­tion, Sen­ate Bill 5772, is prime spon­sored by Sen­a­tor Jamie Ped­er­sen and cospon­sored by Repub­li­can Sen­a­tor Mau­reen Walsh, among others.

As David Kro­man recount­ed for Cross­cut, a num­ber of rur­al Repub­li­can elect­ed offi­cials showed up at the bil­l’s hear­ing (watch on TVW) to tes­ti­fy in sup­port of it, includ­ing many who admit to hav­ing vot­ed in favor of Tim Eyman’s I‑747 when it appeared on the bal­lot just over fif­teen years ago. For example:

Kit­ti­tas Coun­ty Com­mis­sion­er Paul Jew­ell remarked to the com­mit­tee, “How dif­fi­cult it is to appear in sup­port of this bill. We don’t want much of gov­ern­ment ser­vices and we cer­tain­ly don’t like talk­ing about tax increas­es as a rule.” He vot­ed for the cap in 2001.

“I was wrong,” he said.

It’s very refresh­ing to hear that Repub­li­cans like Paul Jew­ell now under­stand the destruc­tive ram­i­fi­ca­tions of I‑747. For most of the last fif­teen years, NPI’s Per­ma­nent Defense has main­tained a pro­file of I‑747 on its web­site, under our Dan­ger­ous Ini­tia­tives sec­tion, which dis­cuss­es the impacts of I‑747.

The I‑747 oppo­si­tion cam­paign warned vot­ers that pas­sage of the ini­tia­tive would lead to cut­backs in pub­lic ser­vices. From the voter’s pam­phlet statement:

“King and Sno­homish Coun­ty res­i­dents are sick of grid­lock. I‑747 means inter­sec­tion and coun­ty high­way improve­ments won’t get made,” says Sno­homish Coun­ty road crew work­er Roger Moller. Klick­i­tat Coun­ty Fire Com­mis­sion­er Miland Walling is con­cerned that “we will be unable to pur­chase safe­ty equip­ment for rur­al firefighters.”

Pierce Coun­ty library employ­ee Pat­ti Cox says a three- year loss of $1.5 mil­lion means “we will have to short­en library hours and cut ser­vices like children’s read­ing hours.”

Yaki­ma Coun­ty Pros­e­cu­tor Jeff Sul­li­van invites “any­one to come look over the bud­get and sug­gest which felony crimes I shouldn’t prosecute.”

Sure enough, in the wake of I‑747’s pas­sage, cities and espe­cial­ly coun­ties were forced to cut back, to the detri­ment of all Wash­ing­to­ni­ans’ well-being.

And in the years since, demand for pub­lic ser­vices has con­tin­ued to grow, but cities and coun­ties — par­tic­u­lar­ly in rur­al Wash­ing­ton — have not been able to keep up because I‑747 is slow­ly chok­ing them to death.

Tim Eyman sneers that any local gov­ern­ment that wants to raise prop­er­ty tax­es can sim­ply put a propo­si­tion on the bal­lot and get vot­ers to sign off on an increase. But that costs mon­ey… mon­ey rur­al coun­ties and cities often do not have.

David Kro­man explains:

The city of Ros­alia, about 40 miles south of Spokane, brings in $660 dol­lars a year in prop­er­ty tax­es. A good chunk goes to pay­ing the rough­ly $200 phone bill of city man­ag­er Jen­na McDon­ald. They’d like to ask vot­ers for mon­ey to help fund roads, but it costs $1,200 just to get a mea­sure on the ballot.

Empha­sis is mine.

You won’t hear Tim Eyman admit it, but elec­tions are a pub­lic ser­vice, too. Elec­tions cost mon­ey. It’s not pos­si­ble to hold an elec­tion for free. There are sig­nif­i­cant costs asso­ci­at­ed with design­ing, prepar­ing, print­ing, and mail­ing bal­lots, and then tab­u­lat­ing those bal­lots when they come back.

How are the lead­ers of a city like Ros­alia sup­posed to pay for an elec­tion to ask its vot­ers for a rev­enue boost when they can’t afford the costs?

Tim Eyman’s I‑747 has been hurt­ing Wash­ing­ton’s com­mu­ni­ties for a very long time. It needs to be repealed. It ought to have been repealed back in 2007, when Democ­rats held super­ma­jori­ties in both hous­es of the Legislature.

The Supreme Court had just struck down the ini­tia­tive as uncon­sti­tu­tion­al and gift­ed then-Gov­er­nor Chris Gre­goire, then-Sen­ate Major­i­ty Leader Lisa Brown, and Speak­er Frank Chopp an oppor­tu­ni­ty to strike a blow for pro­gres­sive tax reform.

But instead of replac­ing I‑747 with more pro­gres­sive prop­er­ty tax pol­i­cy and imple­ment­ing a home­stead exemp­tion or cir­cuit break­er to make the tax code fair­er for mid­dle and low income fam­i­lies, the trio rushed to rein­state I‑747 in a one-day Novem­ber spe­cial ses­sion… to the great joy and delight of Tim Eyman.

We lob­bied fierce­ly against the move, but our admo­ni­tions were ignored. Numer­ous Demo­c­ra­t­ic leg­is­la­tors promised that they would work on com­ing up with a viable replace­ment for I‑747 down the road. Those promis­es were not kept. I‑747 has remained in place and has con­tin­ued to slow­ly inflict harm, year after year.

Death by a thou­sand cuts is very painful, and local elect­ed lead­ers are find­ing it increas­ing­ly hard to deliv­er pub­lic services.

That’s espe­cial­ly true east of the Cascades.

The cospon­sors of SB 5772 are an inter­est­ing group. All but one of them (Rebec­ca Sal­daña) were serv­ing in the Leg­is­la­ture when I‑747 was rein­stat­ed ten years ago.

Of the oth­er cospon­sors, only one vot­ed against rein­state­ment — Sen­a­tor Jamie Ped­er­sen, who at the time was serv­ing in the House. The oth­er four cospon­sors — Sen­a­tors Keis­er, Hobbs, Takko, and Walsh — vot­ed for reinstatement.

It is reas­sur­ing to see their names on this bill. But the list of cospon­sors ought to have been much, much longer. Hope­ful­ly that will be the case will be dur­ing the next go-around. Heavy lifts such as this often require sus­tained mul­ti­year organizing.

In addi­tion to get­ting rid of I‑747, the Leg­is­la­ture should work on mak­ing prop­er­ty tax­es fair­er. One way to do this would be through a home­stead exemp­tion, which would slight­ly lift tax oblig­a­tions on mid­dle and low income fam­i­lies while slight­ly rais­ing them on wealthy fam­i­lies. NPI research finds broad sup­port for this idea.

In June of 2016, in a statewide poll of Wash­ing­ton vot­ers, we asked:

Do you strong­ly sup­port, some­what sup­port, some­what oppose or strong­ly oppose leg­is­la­tion that would reduce prop­er­ty tax­es for mid­dle and low­er income house­holds, while slight­ly increas­ing them for wealthy fam­i­lies, with no loss of rev­enue to pub­lic services?

These were the answers:

  • Sup­port: 67%
    • 42% “strong­ly sup­port” prop­er­ty tax fairness
    • 25% “some­what sup­port” prop­er­ty tax fairness
  • Oppose: 21%
    • 14% “some­what oppose” prop­er­ty tax fairness
    • 17% “strong­ly oppose” prop­er­ty tax fairness
  • 2% answered “not sure”

Our sur­vey of 679 like­ly Wash­ing­ton State vot­ers was in the field from June 14th-15th, 2016; all respon­dents par­tic­i­pat­ed via land­line. The poll had a mar­gin of error of +/- 3.8% at the 95% con­fi­dence level.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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One reply on “Rural Republicans: Tim Eyman’s I‑747 is choking the life out of our cities and counties”

  1. The rapid­ly esca­lat­ing cost of hous­ing in our region, for renters and home­own­ers, is trou­ble­some. My wife and I, both retired and of mod­er­ate income, are home­own­ers who expe­ri­enced a 60% jump in our King Coun­ty prop­er­ty tax from 2015 to 2016, fol­low­ing a com­pa­ra­ble increase in our property’s assessed val­ue. Our appeal of this assess­ment increase was denied. We then got a 10% increase the fol­low­ing year.

    Home own­er­ship does have its priv­i­leges and we’re grate­ful for the oppor­tu­ni­ty of home own­er­ship. We’ve owned this prop­er­ty for over 45 years and our emo­tion­al attach­ment to it is deep. But our property’s increased val­ue will do us no good until we sell, which we have immi­nent inten­tion of doing. Prop­er­ty tax­es are already a major expense for us and the recent large increas­es have severe­ly strain our budget. 

    Where’s the equi­ty in prop­er­ty tax increas­es of this mag­ni­tude? In what oth­er wide­ly assessed tax can an increase of this size occur? If our income tax, sales tax, or gas tax rates jumped 15%, 40%, or 60% in a year, there would be an out­cry from those affect­ed, yet there’s scarce­ly a mur­mur from those on whom these out­ra­geous increas­es fall. 

    In Feb­ru­ary 2016 King Coun­ty Asses­sor Wil­son wrote an arti­cle (“Prop­er­ty tax­es – is there no lim­it”) in the Seat­tle Times, show­ing his aware­ness of the issue. His cita­tion of an aver­age 15% jump in Seat­tle for a medi­an priced home might have been more reflec­tive of my sit­u­a­tion, a 60% increase, had he used the increase’s medi­an rather than aver­age. Nonethe­less, a 30 – 60% lev­el of increase is not uncom­mon in my area of Seat­tle, Leschi.

    While I agree with Mr. Wilson’s con­clu­sion that prop­er­ty tax­es and levies aren’t the opti­mal way to “pay for our munic­i­pal needs and wants”; his state­ment that “there are no easy answers” may not be entire­ly accu­rate. Why not tie or lim­it prop­er­ty tax increas­es from year to year to the Con­sumer Price Index? Or, pos­si­bly defer cumu­la­tive excess increas­es over time to the sale of the prop­er­ty, in a sense treat­ing the increase in assessed val­ue like unre­al­ized cap­i­tal gains? There are no doubt oth­er good ideas that don’t inequitably bur­den low and mod­er­ate income home own­ers and don’t pro­vide the tax­ing author­i­ty with an unearned wind­fall result­ing from mar­ket increases. 

    Because prop­er­ty tax­es accrue to our cities, coun­ties, and state gov­ern­ments, this is an issue that will need to be addressed in a coor­di­nat­ed way by these enti­ties. It’s time for our leg­isla­tive bod­ies, from the Seat­tle City Coun­cil to King Coun­ty Coun­cil to the State leg­is­la­ture, to take this issue seriously. 

    Let’s agree to hold prop­er­ty tax increas­es to a mod­er­ate, rea­son­able lev­el, and find the means for accom­plish­ing this. Let’s sup­port hous­ing afford­abil­i­ty for all, both renters and homeowners.

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