February 14, 2013 in City

Supermajority margin for tax hikes approved for Spokane

Measure holds slim, but sufficient lead
By The Spokesman-Review
 

The next time the Spokane City Council considers a tax increase, it will take five of seven votes to pass.

Most of the remaining ballots in Tuesday’s special election were counted Wednesday, and support for supermajority Proposition 2 increased, widening a close lead it had after Tuesday’s count.

“The voice of the majority has spoken that we want a higher threshold in the area of taxes,” said Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin, who led the effort to place the rule in the city charter.

The proposal captured 51 percent support and leads by more than 800 votes. Spokane County Elections Manager Mike McLaughlin said there will be only a few hundred votes left to tally when the next count is done Feb. 25.

Supporters argued that the state Legislature is likely to give local governments more authority to create and raise taxes in the coming years and that increasing the vote threshold from four of seven members to five of seven members will give taxpayers more protection. They stressed that it still only will take majority votes to place a tax on the ballot.

Opponents argued that the rule was a scheme for the current Republican-leaning majority on the City Council to retain control of fiscal policy even if they lose control of the council.

They also noted that there are few examples of tax increases approved by the council in recent years in 4-3 votes.

But Council President Ben Stuckart, a staunch opponent of Proposition 2, said city services could be seriously affected by the new threshold and said he expects close votes in the future about accepting the annual 1 percent property tax increase that the City Council usually has approved without controversy.

Last year the council voted 4-3 to reject the increase. Stuckart and other Democratic-leaning members argued that had the city accepted it, the city would not have had to eliminate first-response firefighting capability from a South Hill fire station.

“They chose to close a fire station and not take the 1 percent,” Stuckart said.

Spokane Citizens for Responsible Government, which backed the proposition, has reported raising about $11,000 to the state Public Disclosure Commission. McLaughlin said late contributions will put that number over $15,000.

Citizens for Democracy, the opposition campaign group, agreed not to raise more than $5,000, the threshold over which campaigns are required to submit itemized reports to the PDC.

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