NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Friday, March 3rd, 2017

Tim Eyman’s Initiative 1550 would enrich the wealthy at the expense of the rest of us

As Wash­ing­ton home­own­ers received their most recent prop­er­ty tax bills, dis­graced ini­tia­tive pro­mot­er Tim Eyman couldn’t resist try­ing to exploit their con­cerns by announc­ing his intent to qual­i­fy an ini­tia­tive to the Novem­ber 2017 bal­lot that would cut prop­er­ty tax­es by twen­ty-five per­cent. Like Eyman’s I‑1366, which was struck down as uncon­sti­tu­tion­al last year, its ram­i­fi­ca­tions would be dev­as­tat­ing.

Eyman’s Ini­tia­tive 1550 is real­ly a form of reverse Robin Hood­ism – take from poor and mid­dle income fam­i­lies and give to very rich.

Those who own mul­ti­mil­lion dol­lar homes would sud­den­ly see their tax oblig­a­tions reduced by tens of thou­sands of dol­lars. How­ev­er, if you own a more mod­est home, say in Kent, you would only save a mere $75 a year.

King County Assessor John Arthur Wilson

King Coun­ty Asses­sor John Arthur Wil­son, author of this guest post, speaks at Per­ma­nent Defense’s Fif­teenth Anniver­sary Cel­e­bra­tion on Feb­ru­ary 15th in Kent (Pho­to: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI).

Eyman wants to make our worst in the nation, upside down tax code even more regres­sive by gut­ting the clos­est thing we have to a pro­gres­sive rev­enue source.

But the false allure of Ini­tia­tive 1550 doesn’t stop there. In King Coun­ty, it would slash gen­er­al fund rev­enues by about $116 mil­lion a year.

Although Exec­u­tive Dow Con­stan­tine and Deputy Exec­u­tive Fred Jar­rett have done a great job of pro­mot­ing effi­cien­cies and cost sav­ing, tak­ing that much mon­ey out of the county’s bud­get would force hor­rif­ic, dra­con­ian cuts – in pub­lic health, pub­lic safe­ty, trans­porta­tion, best starts for kids, and aid to refugees and the home­less.

And that Kent home­own­er would get whacked twice.

First, that $75 would hard­ly cov­er fam­i­ly din­ner out at Olive Gar­den.

Sec­ond, vital ser­vices that fam­i­ly might depend upon – for their kids in K‑12 schools, for keep­ing their com­mu­ni­ty and envi­ron­ment safe, and pro­vid­ing trans­porta­tion so peo­ple can get to work, school and recre­ation – would be gut­ted.

Forced to sud­den­ly cut $116 mil­lion out of the bud­get, that’s the only choice the peo­ple of King Coun­ty would have. Imag­ine if your house­hold bud­get was abrupt­ly by 25%. What would you do? What could you do?

And for oth­er com­mu­ni­ties and coun­ties, it would be even more dire.

Eyman’s I‑1550 would also elim­i­nate the per­son­al prop­er­ty tax that busi­ness­es pay. This would be dev­as­tat­ing to com­mu­ni­ties like the City of SeaT­ac. I‑1550 would deprive city cof­fers of $10.4 mil­lion annu­al­ly – 16% of the city’s bud­get.

And oth­er cor­po­ra­tions around the state would reap mul­ti­mil­lion dol­lar tax cuts, too. Indeed, some of the largest cor­po­ra­tions in King Coun­ty would end up pay­ing no prop­er­ty tax­es. This is tax rev­enue that sup­ports vital pub­lic ser­vices.

And for small­er coun­ties across the state, Eyman’s ini­tia­tive could well effec­tive­ly dri­ve them into bank­rupt­cy. More rur­al coun­ties, depen­dent upon forestry, fish­ing and agri­cul­ture, would find them­selves hard pressed to pro­vide basic law enforce­ment and fire pro­tec­tion. Schools would be robbed of the resources need­ed sim­ply to pay teach­ers to edu­cate our chil­dren. Even basic main­te­nance of crit­i­cal infra­struc­ture — sew­er, water roads — would become impos­si­ble.

And who would run those bank­rupt coun­ties? Well, not the local­ly elect­ed com­mis­sion­ers. More like­ly fed­er­al bank­rupt­cy judges in Seat­tle or Spokane.

For those in rur­al coun­ties across Wash­ing­ton, it would be a devil’s bar­gain – get an illu­sion­ary prop­er­ty tax cut at the very real risk of being robbed of self gov­er­nance. For the state’s wealth­i­est home­own­ers and cor­po­ra­tions, Ini­tia­tive 1550 would be a wind­fall. But for every­one else, espe­cial­ly tax­pay­ers in cen­tral and east­ern Wash­ing­ton, it would be a lose-lose cat­a­stro­phe.

I under­stand the raw appeal of an ini­tia­tive that would cut prop­er­ty tax­es to frus­trat­ed home­own­ers try­ing to sur­vive on mod­est or fixed incomes. Our tax code is bro­ken and unsus­tain­able. We have become way too reliant on prop­er­ty tax­es. Com­pound­ing that, King County’s red hot real estate mar­ket, that com­bined with prop­er­ty tax­es, makes hous­ing more and more unaf­ford­able.

I’ve talked to far too many seniors and home­own­ers who are sin­cere­ly wor­ried they are being taxed out of their homes. That’s total­ly unac­cept­able.

But so is Eyman’s meat axe approach. Eyman’s I‑1550 sales pitch cre­ates a false sense of ben­e­fit with­out any con­sid­er­a­tion of the impacts. Instead of let­ting Eyman monop­o­lize our pub­lic dis­course like he’s been allowed to in the past, we need to restart a statewide dis­cus­sion about mod­ern­iz­ing our anti­quat­ed tax code.

John Arthur Wil­son is the King Coun­ty Asses­sor. In addi­tion to serv­ing the peo­ple of King Coun­ty as Asses­sor and Deputy Asses­sor, he has con­tributed to the well-being of Wash­ing­ton State as a pub­lic affairs con­sul­tant and a jour­nal­ist.


POSTSCRIPT: One way to actu­al­ly make prop­er­ty tax­es fair­er would be to imple­ment a home­stead exemp­tion. Last year, an NPI research poll found broad sup­port across Wash­ing­ton for this idea. 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: 31%
    • 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.

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One Comment

  1. Error in report­ing results of polling in post script. Oppose should be 31%, not 21%.

    Thanks for your advo­ca­cy.

    # by Toby Thaler :: March 3rd, 2017 at 7:57 PM