1% property tax cap doing what voters wanted
By Tim Eyman, Everett Herald, Sunday, April 16th, 2017, http://www.heraldnet.com/opinion/eyman-1-property-tax-cap-doing-what-voters-wanted/
Property taxes don’t increase as fast as they used to.
Most people think that’s a good thing. But a lot of powerful governments, lobbyists, and special interest groups think it’s bad. So they’re in Olympia right now trying to convince the Legislature to make it easier for state and local governments to jack up property taxes without a vote of the people.
Some background: in the 1990’s, the law allowed each government to increase regular property tax levies 6% per year. So state government got 6% increases, counties 6%, cities 6%, ports 6%, fire/library/cemetery/park/mosquito districts 6% each. With property taxes skyrocketing, we believed that voters wanted more control of over property tax increases.
So we sponsored Initiative 747 in 2001 which limited each government’s regular property tax levy to 1% per year and required voter approval for anything higher. And even though we were radically outspent by a well-organized opposition, voters in 37 of 39 counties, including Snohomish, approved the initiative with a whopping 58% yes vote. It was a huge victory for taxpayers.
Six years later, in a completely goofy 5-4 ruling, the state supreme court said voters were “misled” into voting for the initiative’s property tax limit and struck it down.
Governor Chris Gregoire quickly called a special session to reinstate the 1% limit. Speaker Frank Chopp from Seattle said he would “proudly support” reinstating the cap. Very liberal legislator Brendan Williams from Olympia said: “We have a compact with voters. When voters legislate, we need to respect their work too.”
Governor Gregoire said, “I think the voters said very clearly what they wanted. My motivation is what the voters had to say. And the voters said they’re fearful about whether they’re going to be able to keep their homes. I think it is exactly what the voters want to have done.” Think about that: she heard from voters fearful of losing their homes before the Great Recession – no doubt those fears are even greater today.
In December of 2007, 91% of House members and 81% of state senators voted yes. And our Democrat Governor signed it into law.
So there’s been an overwhelming vote of the people and an even broader legislative vote to make the current property tax limit the law. I highlight this history so that readers can evaluate how we got here (The Herald’s April 9 editorial, “1 percent property tax cap is starving counties,” was riddled with errors and omissions).
In my view, there are numerous reasons the legislature should not betray taxpayers by taking away this proven protection.
First off, all the arguments being made against it now were made during the 2001 campaign and voters rejected those arguments and overwhelmingly approved the initiative. And these same arguments were made again during the 2007 special session and the Democrat-controlled House, Senate, and Governor rejected them and reinstated it by an even wider margin.
It’s important to know that governments get property taxes from multiple sources. Every year, they get property tax revenue from the 1%, new construction, improvements, annexations, banked capacity, real estate excise taxes, valuation jumps, and voter-approved levies. When added together, property taxes to government consistently rise faster than inflation.
But even that isn’t the whole story. Governments get revenue not just from property taxes, but from many other taxes and fees as well. For example, overall revenue for King County’s general fund grew 8% this year even with the 1% limit in place. The fact is governments are taking away plenty of money from the taxpayers. And if any of them want more, all they have to do is ask the voters permission.
House Bill 1764 would get rid of that voter approval requirement, allowing governments to unilaterally increase levies up to 5% per year. So instead of voters deciding, it’ll be up to politicians. Voters don’t want that. Even Republicans John Koster and Terry Nealey, who originally co-sponsored HB 1764, don’t support the bill anymore – only Democrats support it now.
If powerful governments and special interest groups are successful this year and take away the current property tax limit, it’ll be bad for taxpayers. But I believe it’ll be even worse for governments. Why? Because the current limit is a gift compared to what the taxpayers really want: across-the-board property tax reductions. Property taxes continue to be a huge burden for struggling working families. Take away the current limit and property taxes will skyrocket like they used to. And if that happens, governments will inevitably face a tax revolt and a rebellious electorate who will enthusiastically embrace a California style Prop 13 initiative that cuts-and-caps property taxes. Governments should consider themselves lucky that the current limit is in place.
I’m tired, and voters are tired, of governments’ incessant whining about this proven, effective, flexible property tax limit. It has protected taxpayers for 16 years and enjoys broad public support. Legislators in Olympia should not take it away.
Tim Eyman co-sponsored Initiative 747. He can be reached at 425-493-9127, email@example.com, www.VotersWantMoreChoices.com
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