Thursday, March 8, 2007

Stupid Policy and Chicken Politicians

The State Legislature may soon enshrine one of the dumbest, pandering, demagogic, irresponsible initiatives ever (I-747, which limited property tax increases to no more than 1% annually), simply because they are afraid to talk to people as though we were smart.

I don't think that most of us are predisposed to hate all taxes. People hate taxes when they don't see a benefit, and when those taxes are perceived as unfair or overly burdensome. Otherwise, we're pretty much OK with doing our fair share. We live in a society. Roads, schools, hospitals, fire stations, and police all cost money. We get that. Things work best when the burden of making things work gets spread around fairly.

The Washington State Budget and Policy Center has a new report, Balancing Adequacy and Equity in Washington State’s Property Tax, that says good tax policy has two criteria. It shares the burden equitably, and it raises sufficient revenue to adequately meet the agreed upon needs.

It's so simple it's brilliant.

Sadly, Washington State tax policy does nothing of the sort. The poorest pay around 6% of their income in property tax, while the top 20% pays about half that. There are no fail safes to ensure the tax burden doesn't become overly burdensome for anyone. The heavy reliance upon sales taxes and business taxes means that lower income people and small businesses also carry a disproportionate share of the tax burden, giving Washington State the distinction of enjoying the most regressive tax system in the nation.

We're number one. Or 50. Depending on how you look at it.

Meanwhile, with property taxes capped at 1% due to Tim Eyman's enormously destructive 2001 initiative, income for critical services such as education and hospitals lag well behind the rate of inflation, which in those industries runs around 6%. And so, things fall apart.

People are right to be angry that the services they depend on don't work the way they should. And people are right to be angry when they pay more than their share of taxes, and risk losing their homes when taxes go up faster than their ability to pay.

These problems have solutions, but it's not a 1% cap. That's just terrible policy. Politicians in Olympia could enshrine the cap created by I-747 into law this session. If they really don't have any better ideas, they need to try harder. If they're just too afraid of the people to try honesty, well, that's another problem altogether.

Contact your legislators and ask them to oppose bills to codify Initiative 747. We deserve better than this. Contact your legislators by calling the Legislative Hotline at 1-800-562-6000 or visit to take action online.

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