Taxpayers won’t tolerate being ignored; Yes on 722

By TIM EYMAN

Politicians overreacted to Initiative 695 by raising taxes in 1999 — 270,000 petition signers think that’s unfair. In the final months of 1999, politicians throughout the state increased many taxes and fees in an obvious attempt to get around I-695’s voter approval for tax increases requirement (which started in January of this year). They were premature — the Legislature prioritized programs previously funded by license tab fees and used part of the $1 billion tax surplus to help them. Isn’t it fair for Initiative 722 to now get rid of those unfair increases? (Voter approved tax increases — like school levies — would not be invalidated.) If politicians think their tax increases are truly needed, they can reintroduce them and voters can decide whether they’re necessary or not.

Politicians also circumvented I-695 by shifting more taxes onto property owners — I-722 stops them. I-722 prevents property tax assessors from sticking our vehicles on the property tax rolls (as they repeatedly threatened to do) and prevents them from jacking up property taxes to get around I-695’s voter approval requirement. I-722 limits property tax increases to a fair 2 percent annual cap (under I-722, annual increases are limited to 2 percent or inflation, whichever is less). Property taxes are simply skyrocketing in our state. Working-class families’ incomes and senior citizens’ incomes can never keep pace with the outrageous property tax increases we see on a regular basis. This is simply unsustainable. Unless we defuse this "property tax time bomb" now with I-722, only rich people will be able to afford a home in Washington state.

Opponents of I-722 say that this will cause a tax shift — meaning some people will pay more in property taxes because other people will pay less — that is completely untrue. The state Senate (controlled by the Democrats) did a study of Initiative 722 and it says very clearly, "Individual taxpayers will pay less in property taxes than they otherwise would." The study presents two examples and ends, "In either case, the total amount of property taxes would be less than without the passage of the initiative." Contrary to our opponents’ claims, no one will pay more. Everyone will pay less.

During debates on I-722 that I have participated in, when opponents are confronted with this, they switch arguments and say maybe that’s true (that everyone will pay less) but that it is unfair that some people will save more than others. So they think it is unfair that you will save $100 while your neighbor saves $200, or that you will save $1,000 but someone else will save $2,000. This strategy of trying to pit different people against one another, trying to tap into people’s jealousy, envy and resentment of others, failed miserably last year when our opponents opposed our efforts to lower license tab fees. We believe this argument will fail again because Washington citizens believe in the basic principle of treating everyone equally. Under I-722, everyone is treated the same — all property owners will benefit from the same 2 percent annual cap.

And we ask everyone who rents houses or apartments to consider the reality that you pay property taxes also. The bill doesn’t appear on your monthly payment but your landlord simply passes his or her property taxes onto you. And remember, you’ll want to buy a home someday and when you do, you will benefit because I-722 will make your first home more affordable. Opponents claim that I-722 is unconstitutional. Once again, the state Senate study on I-722 debunks this line of attack. Their study accurately states that I-722 follows recent state Supreme Court rulings that say that as long as the legislation lays out a specific exemption (which I-722 does), that this is recognized as a legitimate approach to limit property taxes under our state constitution.

We knew our initiative would be attacked, so we purposely made I-722 a very moderate proposal. We freely acknowledge and are very proud of the fact that Initiative 695 was a very bold tax relief proposal. I-722 is not. I-722 doesn’t slash property taxes, it simply limits property tax increases. As far as "lost revenue" is concerned, politicians simply can’t complain — I-722 doesn’t take away any more money from the government than they had in 1999. Besides, even after the passage and implementation of I-695’s tax relief, the government still has a $1.1 billion tax surplus (as recently announced by our government’s top economist Chang Mook Sohn).

Most importantly, I-722 sends a message to politicians that taxpayers will not tolerate being ignored. When voters overwhelmingly approved I-695 last year, they expected $30 tabs and voter-approval-for-tax-increases. I-722 is necessary to reaffirm voters’ intent – "tax and fee increases imposed without voter approval are unacceptable." Let’s protect our rights! Please vote "Yes" and tell the politicians to stop ignoring the taxpayers — after all, we’re paying the bills.

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