Spokane voters should reject Proposition 2.
The measure would enshrine in the Spokane City Charter a requirement that a City Council supermajority support new taxes, or tax increases. But have casual hikes in city taxation been a problem? The simple answer is “no.”
Rather, this is about tying the hands of future councils, under the presumption members will be less judicious than the seven incumbents now entrusted with tax-setting authority.
And it does not address the city’s fundamental problem: the cost of inflated salaries for public safety workers, particularly firefighters. As long as the cost of salaries and benefits exceeds the growth in inflation and city revenues, the squeeze on the treasury will continue.
Requiring a supermajority, super-supermajority, or unanimous council vote will not change that fact.
We have repeatedly supported statewide initiatives that impose a supermajority for enactment of new state taxes, or increases in existing taxes. The requirement gives senators and representatives from east of the Cascade Mountains some chance to stifle revenue measures more kindly looked upon on the West Side.
When proposals such as taxation of pop and candy nevertheless become law, Washington voters have overwhelmingly supported initiatives that wiped them off the books. They have been just as unaccommodating to proposals for a state income tax.
Few people believe Olympia could not provide services more cost-effectively.
So far, the supermajority rule has not been made part of the state constitution, where it would be more problematic.
And so it would be in the city charter. Unnecessarily.
Recent councils have not approved any tax increases with less than five votes.
The most recent income measure that bestirred residents was a move in 2010 to restructure city water rates, which as a fee would not be subject to the supermajority requirement. But opposition was so strong the incumbent mayor who had sponsored the change was defeated in the 2011 election, and the new mayor and council rescinded the plan.
So it should be in case of future tax increases.
Spokane residents are extremely sensitive about local government getting into their pocketbooks, and vote accordingly. If a bare 4-3 majority favors an unpopular new tax, voters can respond by referendum, or a simple heave-ho of its supporters, ala the ouster of former mayor Mary Verner, whose seat seemed secure until the rate issue blew up.
Where voters perceive value, they step up, as they did with the $117 million street bond issue in 2004, and last year’s initiative to extend the hotel/motel tax.
When they do not, as with a proposed 2011 levy to buy an animal shelter – which we supported – that works out, too. The city, Spokane County and the city of Spokane Valley have just approved a much better deal.
Voters do not need to put their trust in a superfluous restriction like Prop. 2 on the City Council. They can handle it themselves.