Out with the old Tim Eyman idea, in with the new.
Yes, it’s that time of year when the professional initiative peddler hatches his latest product. In Washington state, you can count on death, taxes and Eyman ballot measures calling for the death of taxes. Last year, he veered off course in a clumsy, unsuccessful effort to battle traffic congestion. Now he’s back on track: unrealistic spending controls coupled with tax cuts. Though most Eyman initiatives are unwise and impractical, this one suffers from really bad timing, too. Here’s how the “Lower Property Taxes Initiative,” now known as Initiative 1031, would work:
The collection of revenue by state, city and county governments would be capped. Any general fund growth that tops the annual rate of inflation would be returned to residents by cuts to their property taxes. The measure would not affect collections from taxes approved by voters.
Federal money would escape, too, but only because Eyman added specific language to that effect right before filing the final version of his proposal.
The fact that the author was making that and other adjustments practically as he was sliding the paperwork across the counter at the Secretary of State’s Office exposes another inherent problem with initiatives in general – the lack of scrupulous attention to drafting.
This particular last-minute insertion came about when the first public look at Eyman’s language generated questions about the stimulus plan that states are expecting from the Obama administration and Congress to revive the nation’s moribund economy. Could that effort penalize the state?
Apparently not, but if it succeeds, it would put thousands of Washingtonians back to work, making money, buying goods and services and paying taxes. And that revenue, a prime objective of any stimulus plan, would run into Eyman’s roadblock.
Stimulus aside, the initiative is anti-local control. While Eyman is generally conservative, this is the second straight time he wants voters statewide to meddle with local government revenue. Last year, he wanted to transfer money from municipalities with red-light cameras to a statewide traffic congestion fund. Residents of Spokane ought to have a greater say in local revenue collections than voters in Seattle, and vice versa. If a local government sees a particular need to spend more, it ought to be free to do so. If voters don’t like it, they can elect new leaders.
Another complication is that there are areas of spending that don’t cooperate with the inflation rate. Health care and higher education costs easily outpace inflation each year. Governments are locked into labor contracts.
Eyman needs 241,000 valid signatures to get the initiative on the November ballot. So expect to hear a lot about the “crisis” of government overspending. But with austere budgets on the horizon, that claim will suffer from bad timing, too.