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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Guest Opinion: Tim Eyman: Don’t get rid of property tax cap

By Tim Eyman For The Spokesman-Review

Next year, everyone’s property taxes are going to go up a lot. During this year’s session, the Legislature exempted state government from the 1 percent property tax cap for the next four years to dramatically raise property taxes to fund education and to get the state Supreme Court off its back concerning the McCleary lawsuit.

So that’s now a reality that property owners have to deal with moving forward.

But one exception invites more exceptions. The Spokesman Review’s recent editorial “Tax limit continues to erode services” argues that since the state government has sidestepped the cap, then counties and other local governments ought to be able to sidestep it, too.

So because the Legislature exempted itself from this voter-approved law, we should allow local governments to be exempt, too? I doubt voters want that.

We are at the 16-year anniversary for the 1 percent property tax cap. Voters overwhelmingly passed Initiative 747 in 2001, and a Democrat-controlled Legislature overwhelmingly reapproved it in 2007. It’s working exactly as voters intended. It gives governments an automatic increase every year and if politicians want more, all they have to do is ask voters for it. Prior to this law, state and local governments could just take the money; now they have to ask our permission.

The S-R editorial stated, “A county plan to ask voters to approve a tax increase this November was scuttled.”

Voter approval is the safety valve built into this law, and it’s the reason every government has complete flexibility but only if they can convince voters to agree. Politicians always say that asking for permission before taking more of the taxpayers’ money is too inefficient. But the reason 58 percent of voters in 2001 and 90 percent of legislators in 2007 approved this cap was to make it tougher for governments to raise taxes. Why? Because politicians at all levels of government have repeatedly illustrated their insatiable appetite for higher taxes. And so, the people have rightly insisted on a greater voice in these all-important tax decisions in their communities.

The editorial highlighted this year’s House bill to get rid of the property tax cap. And it’s true that it was originally co-sponsored by two Republicans. But after hearing from their fellow Republican legislators and constituents, both GOP legislators abandoned their support for it. So there is no “bipartisan bill” to reopen Pandora’s box.

There is no decision that government makes that has a greater impact on our lives than taking more of the people’s money. Voters and legislators agreed to let the people have a greater voice in that decision. This law has worked for 16 years and because of the safety valve of voter approval, it’s perfectly OK to continue for another 16 years.

It’s true that local government officials, both Republicans and Democrats, are annoyed by the cap. That should shock no one. No politician likes to have their power diluted. But the entire reason our state constitution guarantees the right to initiative is to give the people the opportunity to pass laws that politicians never would. And the 1 percent cap on property tax increases is a law that the voters passed and still support. It should not be taken away just because local politicians say it makes their jobs tougher.

Last time I checked, being an elected official is optional – if they’re not up to the challenge, then they can step aside and allow a new generation of leaders to take over.

If the automatic increase in property taxes for local governments in and around Spokane isn’t enough, election leaders can always ask local voters’ permission for more. That’s been true for 16 years and it is still true today.

This is a proven, effective, flexible property tax limit. I seriously doubt that voters want it taken away.

Tim Eyman co-sponsored Initiative 747, along with Spokane’s Jack and Mike Fagan.