INITIATIVE 1033 - UNDER CONSIDERATION
by Kirby Lindsay
Just for fun, on October 21, the Fremont Chamber of Commerce, hosted a debate about Initiative 1033 – up for vote on November 3, 2009. To quote the State of Washington, King County and Seattle Voters’ Pamphlet, “This measure would limit growth of certain state, county and city revenue to annual inflation and population growth, not including voter-approved revenue increases. Revenue collected above the limit would reduce property tax levies. Should this measure be enacted into law?”
Len Barson, Vice-Chair of Washington Conservation Voters, spoke against the measure and Tim Eyman, Initiative 1033 co-sponsor, spoke in favor to an audience of Chamber members. Chamber President Marko Tubic moderated the debate (using a fully Fremont-esque timer that quacked like a duck) while I tried to capture what the speakers had to say on a many-layered issue.
Eyman described I-1033 as a call for restraint, at State, County and City government levels, and a measure endorsed by 93% of Washington State National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) members. Under this initiative, Eyman stated, government officials have no incentive to spend 365, 24/7 of the year raising taxes, and revenues. Instead they must focus on maximizing funds already available. Revenue can be raised, but only with voter approval. Revenue would automatically increase, annually, based on inflation and population growth percentages, and if voters approve an increase. “Government is better off having some kind of fiscal limit,” he insisted.
Barson explained that his, and 250 other groups, oppose this measure. Initiative 1033 applies to the State as well as to County and City governments with a “one size fits all approach.” Revenue limits would apply to Pomeroy, Washington (population 1,281) the same as to Seattle (population 598,541). Under this initiative, government loses the ability to tailor solutions to local jurisdictions and, according to Barson, it eliminates their ability to plan for the future (rainy day funds). A similar initiative was adopted in Colorado (in 1992), Barson said, and “things got so bad they had to rescind it,” (in 2005).
Questions from the Audience
Barson originally mentioned the initiative allows for money to be set aside in a rainy day fund, but it sets a cap on the amount which led to the first question asking for more information.
Barson explained that the initiative, coming this year, would set the revenue baseline at recession (today’s) rates. It would freeze government at the lowest point on the fiscal roller coaster, with revenues way down. Yes, he agreed, additional taxes and fees can be put to a vote – through a costly and time consuming process. Then Barson asked, “And in a crisis?”
Eyman responded that setting the baseline today won’t have a big impact. The initiative requires government only take more money from voters after convincing them that a revenue increase is necessary and justified. According to him, in 2001 I-747 set a much tighter, 1% limit and voters agreed to additional revenue increases several times.
Another questioner asked ‘why now’, in a recession? Eyman responded that this may be the most critical time. He hears government say, ‘we have it really tough right now’ but he doesn’t see an acknowledgement that taxpayers have it tough as well. He wants proof that they have exhausted all other possibilities for solutions. Barson stated that the initiative is bad policy, and a bad idea to say that if it doesn’t work we can change it later. Timing doesn’t matter. By approving it now, voters could lock in budgets cuts made.
Democracy In Action
In addition to Barson and Eyman, Paul Guppy, Vice-President for Research at the Washington Policy Center (WPC), attended this forum, with copies of their Citizen’s Guide to I-1033. One aspect brought up in the WPC document, but not addressed by the speakers, concerned a property tax credit created by the initiative.
Later, Guppy explained to me that I-1033 does not change any current tax rates, or fees. As state and local government collect revenue, under I-1033, they would be limited to spending only that which fits under the formula created by the initiative. Governmental bodies could only spend the same amount of revenue they took a year before, plus the percentage the population grew and inflation increased, in the last year. All revenue collected above that amount would be credited towards property taxes in the following year.
At the close of the debate Eyman, and Barson, urged King County voters to look closely to find Initiative 1033 on their ballots. Please, vote by November 3. Tubic then applauded this opportunity to see democracy in action, alive and well, in Fremont. Quack! Quack!
©2010 Kirby Lindsay. This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.