Forum to look at taxation limits

OLYMPIA - The mayors of Olympia, Lacey and Tumwater, and Thurston County Commission chairwoman Cathy Wolfe will hold a forum Tuesday about Initiative 1033. It will be a rare joint meeting of all of Thurston County's major jurisdictions about a special topic.

“In recent history, this is the first time that we’ve done this,” Olympia Mayor Doug Mah said.

Local leaders are concerned about the initiative, which asks voters if they will further limit governments’ abilities to raise tax revenue. It will appear on the Nov. 3 ballot.

The initiative, which is sponsored by prolific initiative writer Tim Eyman, would cap revenues for state and local governments at 2009 levels, with exceptions for inflation and population growth. Governments seeking more revenue would have to ask voters.

City leaders say they’re concerned that if the initiative passes, it will put a stranglehold on their income-gathering potential, freezing it in a place that’s already dramatically smaller because of the recession.

Lacey Mayor Graeme Sackrison said, “2009 becomes the new normal instead of the bottom” of a recession.

Mah said the mayors felt it was important to explore “the potential impacts of the initiative on our jurisdictions.”

The forum, he said, “gives us an opportunity to make sure that everybody has a common understanding of both the expected impacts and some of the unknowns around the initiative.”

Wolfe could not be reached for comment Friday.

Eyman said his initiative creates a structure of fiscal discipline for governments and pointed out that they could always ask voters if they want more taxes.

“They’re not against our limit,” he said. “They’re against any limit.”

Eyman said that picking 2009, a recession year, as a baseline is appropriate because now is the time when governments will look to raise taxes to supplant their waning revenues.

“This allows them to do sustainable budgets,” he said.

Mah said he expected a quorum of at least Olympia, Lacey and Tumwater officials at Tuesday’s meeting. Such meetings have to be public.

It’s unclear just how much the initiative would affect the localities. Thurston County Administrator Don Krupp said the county hasn’t drafted projections because it’s speculative what the effect would be. But he has serious concerns.

“We would not be able to recover … the losses to our criminal justice system,” he said.

“Those services in particular would not be able to keep up with demands of new growth and population.”

Sackrison said he didn’t have specifics, but he hoped they would be presented at the meeting. Olympia Finance Director Jane Kirkemo said she hadn’t crunched numbers, either.

Lacey City Manager Greg Cuoio didn’t return a call seeking comment Friday.

Tumwater hasn’t calculated the cost either, Mayor Ralph Osgood said.

“That’s why were holding the forum, is to try to get a better understanding,” he said.

Mah said the Association of Washington Cities, a private nonprofit group that lobbies for cities, will give a presentation about the potential effects. Jim Justin, director of state and federal relations for the Association of Washington Cities, could not be reached for comment Friday. He is expected to give a presentation at the forum.

Sackrison said he personally opposes the initiative but that the Lacey City Council hasn’t taken a position. Osgood said neither he nor the council has taken a position, but he’s hearing that “it will grossly affect the ability for a community to actually grow.”

Matt Batcheldor: 360-704-6869