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Saturday, November 10, 2007

the Stranger News Hour. Tonight on KIRO. 710 AM.

posted by on November 10 at 11:30 AM

Tune in The David Goldstein show tonight at 7pm when we go over the election results, which will devolve into an argument about Prop 1 and the news that Gregoire is open to a light rail vote in 2008. Speaking of Gregoire, we’ll probably yell about this news too.

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Three-fourths blaring commercials and teasers. Un-listenable.

Posted by elenchos | November 10, 2007 11:40 AM

Here's what we sent to everyone at 10:12 am on Friday morning:

-----Original Message-----
Sent: Friday, November 09, 2007 10:12 AM

November 9, 2007

To: House & Senate elected officials & Governor Gregoire (cc'd to our thousands of supporters throughout the state & all media outlets (reporters, columnists, editorial writers, and others in newspapers, radio, and TV)
From: Tim Eyman, Jack Fagan, Mike Fagan, & Mike Dunmire

RE: Message to Governor & Legislature: here's the minimum

The liberal justices on the state supreme court did you no favors yesterday. This is a powder keg that will explode if you ignore the voters clear no-new-taxes message on Tuesday (passage of I-960 and rejections of Prop 1, 4204, and numerous other local tax measures). Even with the people's 1% limit, Washington state's property tax burden is still crushing everyone. All of you know this because nearly 50 bills were introduced in the last legislative session TO LIMIT PROPERTY TAXES EVEN MORE THAN REQUIRED UNDER I-747. In other words, even with the people's 1% levy limit in effect, you were discussing going further and reducing property taxes.

Here's why the people's 1% levy limit is a given:

In 1999, we sponsored I-695 which required voter approval for every tax and fee increase by state and local governments and $30 tabs. After the court rejected I-695, you adopted $30 tabs but you ignored the voters demand for I-695's voter-approval-for-tax-and-fee-increases provision. Pollster Stuart Elway has consistently said his polling showed I-695's voter approval provision had EVEN HIGHER support than $30 tabs.

Voters demanded it but didn't get it.

Prior to I-695 taking effect, local governments went on a tax and fee hike rampage, jacking up everything in sight from November through December 31, 1999. So in 2000, we sponsored I-722 and it:

* Nullified all those last minute tax and fee increases
* Imposed a 2% government levy limit and a 2% individual property tax
* Repealed banking authority (RCW 84.55.092) which allows governments to
unilaterally impose levy increases above 2% without a vote of the people

Voters overwhelmingly approved it with 55% support but once again, the courts said no, so voters didn't get any of these protections.

So, at this point, the voters demanded voter approval for tax and fee increases by state and local governments, repealed pre-695 revenue hikes, demanded a 2% levy limit and a 2% individual limit, and repealed banking authority -- AND THEY DIDN'T GET ANY OF THEM.

Voters were livid. The voters' clear demands were being disregarded,
dismissed, and disrespected.

In response, many supporters in 2001 wanted us to go further and reduce property taxes, but we went with a compromise - no property tax reductions but a 1% levy limit which doesn't include the property tax revenue government gets from new construction, improvements, annexations, and real estate excise taxes and with an additional exception for anything above 1% approved by voters at an election. It got 58% support, the largest level of support for any initiative we've ever done. It was a crystal clear mandate.

So the 1% levy limit is the compromise -- 1% is a given. But because of the court's ruling, the people's 1% levy limit doesn't go far enough:

* You've got to either repeal banking authority (remember, voters
repealed it in 2000 with I-722) or require voter approval at an election for anything above 1% including unused banking capacity. The gigantic stockpiled total that's now available to local governments is staggering, accumulating over the past six years. In 2002, the Port of Seattle jacked up their levy 37% using banking. You've got to make sure that 1% means 1% and if there's anything higher, it needs voter approval.

* You've got to close the loophole in I-747 that you created in 2007.
King County Assessor Scott Noble was the whistleblower on this one and he advocates this loophole be closed. After he highlighted it and the Seattle Times slammed you for it, you said that wasn't your intent. But making "levy lid lifts" permanent even if governments promised during the campaign that they'd only be temporary is simply unacceptable.

* You've got to do this now. A special session is essential. King
County Assessor Scott Noble has already been contacted by local governments who say "we want it all and we want to be first in line." January is too late. Rep. Ed Orcutt and Sen. Don Benton have already reported that state representatives and state senators must go to Olympia at the end of November for 'committee assembly' anyway. Do it then and get it out of the way.

You don't like us - but you do like your jobs. The court has given each of you the chance to prove that you got the no-new-taxes message from Tuesday's election. When it comes to the people's 1% limit, each of you will show whether you're a representative of the people or a representative of the government.

We're already hearing "Voters said 1%, courts said 6%, let's compromise at 2%." The taxpayers have already substantially compromised. Governor Gregoire, Speaker Chopp, Majority Leader Brown, 2% is DOUBLE what voters want. State and local governments have learned to live with the people's 1% limit. Levy lid lifts above 1% by local governments have a 70% success rate with voters. So there's no going back.

You already know taxpayers are demanding PROPERTY TAX REDUCTIONS - so you better do the minimum right away and hope and pray that'll suffice going into the 2008 election. Just do the right thing, listen to the voters, and take this issue off the table in the 2008 election.

Regards, Tim Eyman, Jack Fagan, Mike Fagan, & Mike Dunmire

Posted by Tim Eyman, I-960 co-sponsor | November 10, 2007 12:44 PM

The article about the 1% cap suffers from the same ambiguity that doomed the initiative in the courts. Is it a 1% cap on collections or a 1% cap on rate increases or news collections derived therefrom. The difference between the two is huge. Is this a tax-relief measure or is it a fiscal restraint issue? It's irresponsible of the Governor and the house to jump on the cap bandwagon without knowning exactly what their constituency is really in favor of, and that isn't clear from the vote because as the court pointed out the ballot measure was misleading and the campaign for it deceptive.

Posted by kinaidos | November 10, 2007 12:45 PM

Plan B should have rail, and more buses.
(Call the bluff of the antirail pro bus crowd and provide voters with something that can be put in place relatively quickly).

The rail component should include hooking up West Seattle, Ballard and Seattle Center. It should also include picking up the BNSF right of way (low hanging fruit) so that Kirkland, Renton and perhaps Southcenter can be hooked up.

Those destinations should have priority over miles of rail stretching out to Tacoma and Mill Creek as proposed in Prop. 1.

We need an interlaced network focused on the core of the area, which provides more useful coverage, more synergy, and more benefits, as compared to Prop. 1's plan which called for going to Mill Creek and Tacoma first, while seemingly leaving out -- for all time -- closer and denser destinations and neighborhoods like West Seattle, Seattle Center, Ballard, Renton and Kirkland.

Posted by Cleve | November 10, 2007 1:03 PM

When you look back at your career, Tim, and you realize that the only thing that you've pretty much done with your life is to have reduced the amount of government revenue and increased the amount of government red tape, do you really think that you will have done something positive for the world around you?

How pathetic. You've got talents. Use them for good, and not for this kind of crap.

Posted by bma | November 10, 2007 1:11 PM

to: bma
from: tim eyman

all we're doing is providing voters the opportunity to put some reasonable restraints on government's power. it's the voters who are approving these common sense reforms and ideas. fundamentally, we're simply giving the average taxpayer an equal voice in the process and increasing the public's awareness and providing for more government accountability. that's nothing but a good thing. we'll look back on our efforts and say "at least we gave voters more choices and a greater voice in their government" -- what have you done other than sit at a computer, typing a bunch of snotty comments, and whining about those stupid voters?

Posted by Tim Eyman, I-960 co-sponsor | November 10, 2007 3:35 PM

@4, Yup, both rail and bus, but we won't know where or how much until transportation planners agree to evaluate their designs based on greenhouse gas impact.

We can figure out modality mixes later; GHG analysis is the first thing that needs to happen.

But from our leaders, we're still hearing crickets.

Posted by scotto | November 10, 2007 3:43 PM

Somehow I don't think the businesses and unions that coughed up $4 million to support the last ST effort are going to do that again next year. The "ROR" (something those capitalist pigs value) was so bad, they'll be gunshy of ST for a good long while.

Posted by cold shower | November 11, 2007 8:25 AM

MSFT put in like a few hundred thousand, they have like billions in the bank and make billions every year. This was pocket change for most of the corporate donors. For those that will be involved in the projects the return will be fantastic. How much profit do you think is in $23 billion of projects? Maybe $3-5 billion. The funny thing is that the same guys that lost for them this time will get fat paychecks next time.

Scotto yes we should measure GHG impact of all projects over time. We need to have an idea as to when each project becomes GHG neutral. We need to look at the GHG cost of the tunnel to the UW and north of there. Everything needs to be on the table. Dust to Dust" car analysis is a good model for this.

If the science of CC is correct and GHG are the straw breaking the back and we need to begin drastic reductions in the next decade then we need to totally rethink how we should be spending our capital.

Posted by whatever | November 11, 2007 8:50 AM

to: tim eyman
from: bma

But I enjoy sitting behind a computer, taking potshots at public figures that apparently enjoy negative ad hominem attacks!

Well, I guess that I started it. My bad.

Regardless of one's politics, I think that there are certain things that do make sense to me: increased government transparency and accountability, higher efficiency, less waste. To take anyone to task for trying to achieve those is certainly negative, especially since bureaucracies have a means of developing inefficiencies that they don't need, and certain government officials, elected or otherwise, have a tendency to use that power for their own gains. I even believe (and don't tell my socialist/progressive friends) that the free market has provided better solutions to certain problems than the government.

Furthermore, the ways that our tax systems are constructed have some inherent problems. In any property tax system, commercial property is often forced to pay for services that they don't use, subsidizing the residents of cities. Sales taxes are inherently regressive, even when carefully constructed. Income taxes can be difficult to collect, may be regressive depending on how they are constructed, and are quite complex and labyrinthine in their operation.

But when you get down to it, there are two points on which we diverge, and diverge pretty radically.

First is that I cannot agree with the conservative viewpoint that paying taxes is essentially akin to throwing your money into a hole in the ground, or perhaps putting it into a big pile and lighting it on fire. We may grumble about taxes, and think that we are paying far too much to do far too little. And when local governments spend far too much time on things that end up with no positive resolution, then yes, I do get irked.

But is the answer to drown local governments in a bathtub and make it look like it's a suicide? No. Restricting property tax growth to 1%, ignoring the fact that inflation exceeds this amount, is ludicrous. Pitching it to the people as reform is disingenuous, as restricting the main revenue source of most local jurisdictions while expecting them to maintain the same levels of service is completely unrealistic. The experiences of Colorado with TABOR should be informative in this kind of public policy decision.

And in the end, are we truly saving money and increasing efficiency with lower taxes? Many of the services that we lose from governments would have to be paid for separately. Reduce the quality of public schools, and many more families opt for private institutions or homeschooling. (Or at the very least, they need to run bake sales and pay fees to support afterschool programs and sports.) Eliminate libraries, and households have to pay for home Internet access and buy books online. Other services are by their very nature public, and difficult to provide solely through good wishes and donations. Public health and consumer protection programs, for example, would be difficult to provide locally through private entities, especially in the short-term. Finally, cuts in local government agencies affect the poor disproportionately, even moreso than the tax system as it exists. Reduce funding to libraries and schools, and higher income families have more options than lower income households. If you believe that we all have a responsibility to all of the citizens of a jurisdiction, then we need to provide the services that we all need.

Finally, the money that is being taken in by the government isn't just sitting there, going to waste. The expenditures of government in and of themselves are an economic force, and one that must be considered in the balance. These are benefits that are going out to our own communities in many cases: the wages to government employees, the costs of building and maintaining certain types of infrastructure paid to local firms, the grants to local organizations, and so forth. I would suggest that a movement towards a more libertarian, market-dominated system in today's globalized society does nothing to benefit our own communities, but instead encourages the loss of indirect benefits to corporations outside of our jurisdiction.

My second objection is based on the assumptions that democracy should be solely rooted in a fifty percent plus one mindset, especially when taxes are concerned, and that recent decisions can be interpreted to be rock-solid support for lower taxes. Although you have stated that the people have asked for reasonable restraints and common sense reforms, how does this match with citizens' demands on government?

Let's examine ballot measures in our state. Tax reform initiatives have had a majority of support: Initiative 747 passed with 58% of the vote in 1999 and I-722 passed with 56% of the vote in 2000. However, in 2000, I-732 (regarding teachers' salaries) passed with 63% of the vote, and I-728 (regarding class sizes in schools) passed with 71% of the vote, two measures that passed with supermajorities that increased the demands on the government and school systems without providing appropriate funding mechanisms. While moves were made to cut taxes, we were also increasing our demands on government. Heck, I-900 passed with 56% of the vote statewide, and drew directly from the General Fund for its operations with no new revenue source. How can you explain that as fiscal responsibility on the part of the electorate?

This cannot simply be interpreted as the people crying out to get their crushing tax burdens reduced; it is a simple case of free-ridership in our government system. If I were given the opportunity to get something for nothing, I would most certainly take it. But to assume that everyone is keen on acting in the common good, in a way that is reflective of much more than economic self-interest, is pretty short-sighted. We live in a society which, I'm sorry to say, is simply not informed on the issues, and is often willing to vote, not on careful consideration of the issues, but on catchy TV sound bites and the wording of ballot measures. Not to mention that these measures are not nuanced, not open for public comment or modification, but are simple yes or no questions. In this situation, ask the people in an electorate if they are willing to pay more for the services that they expect they should get for free, and of course many people will vote it down without carefully considering the effects.

If we had a straight up-or-down vote on every single statewide framework for taxes and fees, I doubt that you'd be able to get funding for a good local dogcatcher, or, even worse, a disproportionate burden of taxes would be forced upon a minority of the electorate. That is not how we should run governments; it's simply not fair.

So if one does have the belief that governments should exist, and that local and state services are important, we need to set up a system that shares those costs appropriately. We all have an obligation to pay our own way, in a way that is reflective of our ability to pay, regardless of whether or not we'd prefer to spend less on taxes. We also need to exercise fiscal responsibility, both in terms of paying what we need to fund the government, and making our wishes known through our representatives as to how those funds should be allocated.

So I agree with you for the need to reform our tax structure in the state, and the need for transparency. I do not, however, agree with the idea that strangling local governments without providing an alternative scheme for funding important services is the way to reach those goals.

And finally, stop referring to the participants in this process as "taxpayers". There are plenty of people that are "taxpayers" in this state and in local communities that are not "citizens", and there are others that have the right to vote but do not get a tax bill in the mail from the city and county. Unless you are prepared to reinstitute poll taxes somehow, or give people votes in proportion to the amount that they pay to the government (in taxes, at least), this is pretty misleading language.

Posted by bma | November 11, 2007 11:59 AM

Just because the voters pass an initiative doesn't mean it is good public policy. Timmy always confuses winning with being right. Oddly enough, he doesn't think he is wrong when he loses. Funny how that works.

By the way, it looks like 4204 has a pretty good chance at passing after all. Of course, the folks over at Sound Politics are already assuming King County is committing election fraud.

Posted by wayne | November 12, 2007 1:46 AM

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