Editorials

I-1033 goes too far and could hurt cities to spite state

Tim Eyman is back with another tax-cutting initiative.

His measure on the general election ballot, Initiative 1033, would limit the amount of revenue government jurisdictions could collect in property taxes.

This is a close call. If Eyman had limited I-1033 to state government, The Olympian’s editorial board could have been persuaded to support it. But by extending the tax limitation measure to local government — cities and counties — Eyman goes too far. His initiative would hamstring local officials and lock them into already seriously reduced budget levels. Local decision makers should not be punished for the lack of fiscal discipline that plagues the Washington state Legislature.

THE BALLOT TITLE: “INITIATIVE MEASURE NO. 1033 CONCERNS STATE, COUNTY AND CITY REVENUE.

“This measure would limit growth of certain state, county and city revenue to annual inflation and population growth, not including voter-approved revenue increases. Revenue collected above the limit would reduce property tax levies.

“Should this measure be enacted into law?

Yes ___

No ___”

In 1993 voters approved Initiative 601, a ballot proposition to limit the growth of state government. Eyman will tell you that prior to the passage of the I-601, state government was growing at a clip of 17.3 percent per two-year budget cycle. Once I-601 limits went into effect, the pace slowed to 8.9 percent per budget cycle.

As an analysis by Jason Mercier with the Washington Policy Center notes, lawmakers have changed Initiative 601 a dozen times since the measure became law. Those repeated legislative amendments to Initiative 601 have effectively gutted the people’s spending limit.

Eyman’s philosophy is “601 worked and it can work again.”

CAPPING REVENUE

The clear goal of Initiative 1033 is to limit the growth of government. The measure would cap general fund revenues for state and local governments at 2009 levels, allowing the cap to rise only for inflation and population growth.

Eyman, who deserves credit for crafting populist citizen initiatives for the last 12 years, is quick to note that under I-1033, governments seeking more tax revenue would have to go to the voters for their approval. And any revenue collected by the state or local governments above the cap would be transferred into an account to lower property taxes starting in 2012.

Initiative 1033 has a lot of popular appeal. And Eyman is absolutely right when he says that state lawmakers “cannot control themselves” when it comes to spending.

When times are flush and tax receipts are rolling in, state lawmakers have a tendency to spend every dollar. When times are tough — such as the current recession — lawmakers are forced to make deep cuts — slashing spending and ending programs and services they created during the boom days.

The end result is this fiscal roller coaster we’ve experienced over the last decade. Lawmakers have shown no fiscal restraint and that fact has taxpayers hopping mad.

The dichotomy, of course, is the same voters screaming for tax relief and fiscal restraint are the same people who demand increased public services and vote legislators right back into office after they’ve adopted nonsustainable budgets.

Initiatives, rightfully, put the power in the hands of the people. But it’s lunacy to write a complicated state budget through the initiative process. That’s why we have a representative democracy. While it’s tempting to force fiscal restraint upon state budget writers, it’s totally unfair to lump local decision makers into the same fiscal limitations as state lawmakers.

While the state will have almost $6 billion less to spend over a five-year period if I-1033 passes, cities are expected to lose out on $2.1 billion with counties losing $694 million. To bring that to the local level, Olympia stands to lose $27.9 million over five years, Lacey $16 million and Tumwater 7.8 million.

Those are less dollars to spend on police and fire protection, city and county parks, recreation programs and the myriad of services the public has come to expect.

The fiscal binds put in place by I-1033 would cripple local governments, locking them into a base budget level that has already been decimated by the recession.

CRUSHING BURDEN

Eyman keeps talking about the “crushing burden” of property taxes.

The city of Lacey will collect about $8.9 million in property taxes this year. The costs just to provide police and ancillary services (jail and court costs, indigent defense and victim’s advocacy) is $9.2 million. Every dime in property taxes in Lacey won’t even cover police costs, let alone all the other services provided by the city.

Is that a “crushing” tax burden? Is it fair to take even more money away from city decision-makers?

We don’t think so.

While it’s tempting to send a message to lawmakers about their fiscal irresponsibility, the truth is I-1033 would result in additional budget cuts to education, transportation and human services across the state and cripple local governments. For that reason, we encourage a “No” vote on Initiative 1033 on Nov. 3

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