Initiative has social service agencies worried
Nonprofit agencies that work on housing and children’s issues are putting out a call for volunteers to work against a Washington initiative to limit government spending.
Recent polls show Initiative 1033 with a comfortable lead, and that has groups concerned about a loss of grant funding for programs, said Mary Ann Murphy, executive director of Partners with Families and Children: Spokane, who forwarded the request for help with a phone bank. “I did get alarmed that perhaps people didn’t know all the implications of how this will play out.”
The sponsor of the initiative questioned whether the agencies should be campaigning for or against any ballot measure, but doubted they’d have much impact.
“If we thought it was going to be really effective, we’d be more upset,” Tim Eyman said.
The initiative proposes limits on the amount of revenue the state, cities and counties can spend from their general funds, and would require property tax reductions if they collected more than an amount tied to inflation and population growth.
The state’s Office of Financial Management projects that state, city and county revenues would grow much slower under I-1033 than they would under current law.
Based on estimates of inflation and population growth between now and 2015, the state’s fiscal office projects the state would have almost $6 billion less to spend over the next five years, while cities would have $2 billion less and counties $694 million less. But the OFM also notes that all three will see more money over that period; for example, the state general fund, which covers education, health and social services and most other state programs, would grow between $400 million and $500 million a year through 2015, rather than an estimated $800 million to $1 billion per year.
Michael Kelly of the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, which put out the call for volunteers, said restrictions on the general-fund spending could lead to reductions in programs that tackle homelessness, hunger and housing shortages.
Murphy said the state may have already cut mandated services like schools and corrections as much as possible, so health and social services may bear a larger share of any cuts from 1033.
“I don’t feel shy or reticent about thinking those are good things the state does. I feel good about services for health and children,” she said.
Eyman argues, however, that the best way to fight homelessness or expand low-income housing is to make homes more affordable, and one way to do that is to lower property taxes, which I-1033 would do if revenue grows faster than the limit it sets up.
“How do we help the poor? Stop taxing them into poverty might be a good start,” Eyman said.
Rachel Myers, executive director of the housing coalition, agreed the state needs to examine its high property taxes, as well as its high sales tax rate, but not in an initiative campaign. “I don’t think this is the way to address the disproportionate impact of taxes on the poor.”
A recent poll commissioned by the pro-initiative campaign showed the proposal had a significant majority among voters surveyed in late September; about twice as many said they’d vote yes as vote no. That was one reason opponents said they needed volunteers “to tell people the truth about this initiative.”
But efforts by government officials to counter the initiative are probably a reason it’s doing well in the polls, and work by the nonprofits could have the same effect, Eyman said.