A mixed bag of initiatives

It’s no surprise Initiative 747 appears to be doing well in the poll of public opinion. People are furious with Olympia in general and about property tax hikes, which have been fueled by rising values and voter-approved taxes as well as modest tax hikes enacted by officials.

Initiative 747 looks good, but will have negative impacts on our communities, our neighbors and even ourselves. It will affect cities, counties, fire districts, library districts and the like. It will throw up roadblocks to road improvements (particularly in Snohomish County), assuring adequate public safety and providing normal government service levels to the public.

In theory, it is sensible public policy that merely modifies state practice. The state already limits property tax increases to 6 percent a year. For major jurisdictions, such as cities and counties, the state imposes the same limit along with a requirement that a supermajority of the council must approve any increase. Having heard the voters’ concerns (and sponsor Tim Eyman of Mukilteo deserves some of the credit there), governments are becoming much more reluctant to vote even those increases.

In reality, the measure to limit property tax increases to 1 percent per year will cut into the budgets of necessary services from which we all benefit.

Voters should say no to I-747 and focus their efforts on selecting fiscally prudent representatives who will aggressively tackle our tax and transportation issues. That’s where our real power lies as voters.

The initiative seeks to avenge the state Supreme Court’s rejection of previous initiatives 695 and 722 — hence the drastic drop from 6 to 1 percent. Had the initiative been content with requiring public votes on property tax hikes of more than 2 or 3 percent a year, we might have very well thrown our support behind it. But it bothers us greatly that this initiative is being used in this manner. It requires voters at the ballot box to choose their representatives while simultaneously tying their hands behind their backs before they even get to Olympia and our local city councils and school boards.

With inflation running at a historically low level of about 2.7 percent, local governments may end up with shrinking revenues. Or they will have to call expensive public elections. So, we may well end up paying the tax increase and the cost of the elections for the numerous districts — a double whammy.

Eyman calls Washington the fifth most taxed state in the nation, which is true when you include the effect of the federal income tax on a state population that does pretty well salary-wise. The tax burden is estimated as 19th when figured as a percentage of personal income. And our state and local taxes tend to fall rather heavily on businesses, which won’t be helped by the initiative.

In other ballot measures, voters should say no to Initiative 775 (a plan that’s supposed to assure better home care for the elderly and disabled) and yes to Initiative 773 (a plan to raise tobacco taxes for health programs).

Initiative 773 calls for hiking cigarette taxes by 60 cents, to a tops-in-the-nation figure of $1.42 per pack. The additional money would largely go to a very vital purpose — increasing the number of people on the state’s Basic Health Plan insurance. With the economy going in a tailspin, the need for Basic Health Plan coverage will rise.

There are very significant problems with the initiative, including the regressive nature of a tax that will disproportionately be paid by lower-income people. But the big tax hike will make up for some of the health problems that tobacco causes and might push some smokers, particularly younger ones, to give up a dangerous addiction.

Initiative 775 is likewise well-intended, with an aim of helping both Medicaid clients of in-home care services and the extremely underpaid workers in the field. Those are good causes, but the Legislature is the place for the kind of carefully considered action required on a new law governing the hiring of people who work in clients’ homes on such a personal basis that bathing and dressing is often part of the job.

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