January 13, 2013 in Opinion

Special to The Spokesman-Review: In city vote, Proposition 2 should be defeated

Ben Stuckart

On Feb. 12, the city of Spokane will hold a special election on three propositions. Prop. 1 asks voters to consider amending the city charter to enshrine police oversight through the Office of Police Ombudsman. Prop. 3 allows voters an opportunity to increase the property tax in support of library services. Prop. 2 asks the citizens to change the charter to require a 5/7 majority to raise all taxes in the future.

We oppose Prop. 2, and encourage voters to vote no for these four reasons:

1) Prop. 2 is unclear. Do you know which fees, registrations or taxes would require five votes in the future? We don’t either! During the City Council debate to put this measure on the ballot, it became clear no one knows exactly what would be affected if this measure were to pass. Supposedly, this change would impact increases in taxes, but not fees. For instance, the $20 car tab fee that passed a few years ago for street maintenance would not require a 5/7 majority vote. But, if the City Council increased business registration fees, those would be covered under the proposed charter change. Clear? We don’t think so either. City charter changes should not be confusing. This proposal is far from clear and should be rejected.

2) Prop. 2 is poor public policy that allows the minority to control decision-making. Recently, the City Council rejected increasing the annual 1 percent property tax increase by a vote of 4 to 3. Democracy worked. Had the vote been 3 to 4 in favor and this charter amendment had been in place, a minority of three people would have stopped it from happening. Thomas Jefferson called this the tyranny of the minority. At the state level, requiring supermajorities has stalled local projects such as the North Spokane Corridor to a point where we wonder if anything will ever be finished. Do we want to tie our local elected leaders’ hands from taking action to move Spokane forward? Our citizens deserve to have city officials represent our viewpoints and not be held captive by the minority. Vote no on Prop 2.

3) Prop. 2 is unnecessary. None of the proponents of this Charter change has been able to point to a single instance in the past 10 years where a vote on increasing taxes would have been affected by this proposed change. City Council members are direct representatives of neighborhoods in Spokane. We live next door to you. We have council meetings every Monday night. If we make a decision you disagree with, we will see you at the park with our kids or walking our dogs by the elementary school. We are regularly recognized and approached at the grocery store, or at church. We are not in Washington, D.C., or Olympia. When decisions to raise revenue are voted on at the local level, the City Council has been and continues to be closely watched and held accountable. There is no recent or historical argument for changing our charter to require a supermajority for tax increases. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

4) Prop. 2 isn’t what it seems. Proponent Chris Cargill of the Washington Policy Center (a Seattle-based think tank) has claimed (The Spokesman Review, Dec. 1) that Pierce County recently passed a charter amendment “exactly” like what is being proposed in Spokane. This is simply untrue. The Pierce County changes only applied to new taxes. The proposal in Spokane also applies to raising existing taxes. If the proponents of the measure cannot tell you the truth when advocating for something as monumental as a charter change, then why should we vote for this confusing proposal? What other differences are there and why are the proponents not telling you the truth?

We ask that you reject Prop 2. A proposal that is unclear about what fees and taxes would be impacted should not be approved. A small minority of City Council members (less than 30 percent) should not be able to stop a future Expo ’74 from happening. A city charter change that originated with a think tank in Seattle, not Spokane, should not be what guides our future. We deserve better and we urge you to join us in voting no on Prop. 2 on Feb. 12!

Ben Stuckart is president of the Spokane City Council. Amber Waldref represents City Council District 1.

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