From Sultan to Edmonds, city council members are lining up against Initiative 1033 out of concern it will slowly starve their communities of money for vital services.
Democrats and Republicans worry Tim Eyman’s latest ballot proposal is such a restrictive fiscal measure it could impede economic recovery in their cities if they cannot afford to make investments in new projects.
It’s been a recurring theme expressed by council members in Everett, Edmonds, Sultan and Mill Creek — to name a few — as they’ve passed resolutions opposing the initiative.
“We have not cried the blues in the city of Everett about past initiatives. We have lived within the means put upon us by our citizens,” Mayor Ray Stephanson said. “This initiative, frankly, just goes too far.”
Administrators of small cities foresee a proliferation of levy measures to fund basic operations.
“One of the potential outcomes is cities would end up being like school districts and fire districts and going to the voters on a regular basis with levies,” said Deborah Knight, administrator for the city of Sultan.
Eyman expected these dire predictions because he said policymakers at every level fear measures that try to rein in their amassing and spending of tax dollars.
“Government is a wild stallion that doesn’t want a bit in its mouth, doesn’t want a saddle on its back. It wants to run free and clear with absolutely no restraints,” Eyman said. “Our initiative puts a pretty good saddle on it, but it will continue to run in the direction that it wants to go.”
Initiative 1033 aims to curb government spending by limiting the consumption of tax dollars by cities, counties and the state. It does not apply to school, fire, port and other special districts.
It sets a cap on how much revenue from property, business and sales taxes can be collected each year by city, county and state governments. Federal funding is excluded from the revenue cap, as is money raised from voter-approved fees or taxes.
This cap would rise each year at the rate of inflation plus population growth. If Initiative 1033 is approved, it will use the amount of revenues received in 2009 as the base year, and the cap would be applied starting next year.
Any tax revenues collected above the cap are steered into a separate account and used to lower property taxes. Only those who own property will be eligible for this tax rebate.
The state Office of Financial Management estimates I-1033 could, by 2015, divert nearly $9 billion from the general funds of cities, counties and state government. Those accounts cover costs of everything from street sweepers and police officers in cities to health care and public education statewide.
Of the sum, $5.9 billion could be siphoned from the state general fund, $700 million from counties and $2 billion from cities, according to the agency’s estimates.
Some cities are estimating their share of loss. Edmonds, for example, predicts it may lose out on $530,617 in 2011 and $2 million by 2015.
With such numbers, it’s no surprise the level of nervousness among elected officials and those dependent on public funding.
Senior Services of Snohomish County gets money from the state and county for a variety of programs. Pain will trickle down to needy seniors if those dollars are lost, said Dave Earling, president of the nonprofit’s board of directors.
For example, the group receives $20,000 for about 1,300 meals in the Meals on Wheels program.
“We won’t be able to serve meals to some who are housebound. Those are real people who will be affected,” said Earling, an Edmonds resident and former Republican candidate for Snohomish County executive.
Stephanson said the initiative could sap Everett’s willingness to involve itself in public-private ventures.
“There will be no incentive to pursue economic development opportunities because they come with a cost such as police and fire services and roads,” he said.
Sultan is getting righted financially after years of difficult budgets and could be knocked off-balance again, Knight said.
“There’s been a slow erosion of revenues because of the recession. That slow erosion is going to continue with this,” Knight said.
“For Sultan, we feel like we’ve finally balanced our budget and provided services to the community that we haven’t been able to provide for several years and we’re concerned we’ll be back to 2005,” she said.
Eyman said he revised his measure more than once in hopes of pre-empting some of the criticisms that have surfaced.
For example, he initially wanted revenues to grow at the rate of inflation only. He added population growth based on comments expressed by local government leaders.
Permanently excluding new revenue approved by voters is a safety valve provided for politicians.
“We try to strike a balance between what government says it needs and what we want,” Eyman said. “Over time, we’ll get the government we want and the government we can afford.”
Not everyone’s opposition stems from the potential fiscal consequences of the initiative.
Bothell Mayor Mark Lamb, a self-described conservative Republican, called it a “top-down, big government” approach that punishes well-run cities and poorly managed ones the same way.
“I don’t think Tim Eyman knows how to run every single city in the state of Washington,” said Lamb, who was an attorney for sponsors of Initiative 912, which sought to repeal the 2005 gas tax increase passed by the Legislature.
“Initiative 1033 says one person knows best how every single city should operate. I think that is electoral hubris in the extreme,” he said.
In response, Eyman said the measure is “personalized” with the cap varying from city to city because of different rates of population growth.
Local control, he argues, is strengthened by letting voters decide whenever their city or county wants to raise money beyond the cap.
“When politicians say you’re taking away local control, I say, ‘No, we’re taking it away from you politicians and giving it back to voters,’ ” Eyman said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623, email@example.com.
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623, firstname.lastname@example.org.