OLYMPIA – Unfazed by voters’ rejection of his last proposal, initiative promoter Tim Eyman on Monday launched the new year with a return to his roots: a sweeping anti-tax measure aimed at state and local governments.
“This is the initiative our supporters have been waiting for for 10 years,” he said Monday at the Capitol.
Eyman, who rose to fame with a measure that sharply cut car license tab fees, is calling the still-unnumbered measure “the Lower Property Taxes Initiative.” And while it could reduce property taxes, its scope is much broader.
If it passes, increases in tax and fee collection would be limited to the rate of inflation. If more is collected – say, the economy happens to be surging, or there’s a spike in taxes from real estate deals – that “excess revenue” would be used to reduce property taxes for the following year.
“We believe a majority of citizens are going to find it reasonable that governments continue to grow, but that they grow at a rate that we can afford,” said Eyman. He blasted the state’s property taxes as “obscene and unsustainable.” He also pointed out that the measure allows governments to collect more money, so long as voters approve.
Groups representing cities and counties were still poring over the proposal Monday afternoon. But Jim Justin, assistant director of the Association of Washington Cities, said that cities need more flexibility than the measure would allow. Many have already dipped deep into their reserves to keep providing government services in this recession, he said. And Eyman’s measure, he said, doesn’t seem to make any allowance for population increases.
Eyman’s measure wasn’t the only one filed on Monday, the first day to file. Two members of Washington Voters for Fair Property Tax filed a second proposal.
For property bought in 2004 and earlier, the second proposal would freeze the taxable values of property at 2005 levels. (For newer purchases, the value would be the purchase price plus any renovations.) Taxable values could rise only 1 percent a year unless the property is sold, at which point the value would be the actual sale price.
The second plan was filed by Linda Courtney Cox, of Chelan, and Kenneth R. Sinibaldi, a doctor on Lopez Island, in the San Juans.
Washington’s property tax “is driving people out of their homes,” Cox said in a phone interview. Under their plan, she said, people staying in their homes would have a predictable, fair tax.
“You’re not taxed based on what your neighbor bought his home for,” she said. “You’re taxed on what you agreed to pay and what you felt you could afford.”
Getting any measure on the ballot this year will not be easy. Proponents need to come up with more than 241,000 voter signatures by July. Eyman said he hopes to have petitions available by February.
State lawmakers, who will launch the 2009 legislative session next week, are also discussing several property tax proposals. One long-shot measure would eliminate the state’s share of the tax. Another would require annual revaluations, to avoid sticker shock from big increases every few years. Others would limit how much values can increase.
Eyman has taken on property taxes before. In 2001, voters approved Initiative 747, which capped total property tax increases at 1 percent more a year unless voters agreed to more. (This only applies to the total, not to individual homes.)
Eyman, who pays himself from a supporter-funded “compensation fund,” was less successful last year. By a 60-40 margin, voters in November rejected Eyman’s transportation measure, which would have restricted tolls and steered millions of dollars into road projects.