Portrait of a tax opponent - Retiree is devoted to less government



BELLEVUE -- Wynn Cannon wants to lower your property taxes, shrink your government and give freer rein to enterprise.

But if you saw him on the street, you might never guess what stirs in his mind.

The 76-year-old Cannon is chairman of the League of Washington Taxpayers, a grass-roots organization dedicated to property-tax relief for state residents. His group advocates lower government budgets and lower property tax rates, which in Washington last year ranged from $7.32 to $15.75 per thousand dollars of assessed value.

So, up to three times a week, this silver-haired retiree hops into his car and heads from his home in Bellevue to Olympia to talk with lawmakers about his favorite topic.

"My attitude is, I was given a fairly good brain. I feel we have a responsibility to give back to what the nation has given us," he said.

At the core of his thinking is a belief that individuals are better at spending money than elected and appointed officials and their aides are.

If individuals have more cash, he believes, they can help themselves and the economy.

And businesses, he believes, can provide public services currently provided by the government.

"They have a better understanding of making money and spending money," he said. "Efficiency is a great factor."

His organization, 6,000 to 8,000 people strong, wants a change in the state constitution so that property taxes are rolled back to 1990 levels for assessments and levy rates. The year is a point at which, he said, his valuation and assessments started increasing.

Scott Noble, King County assessor, calls the organization's idea well-intentioned. But he says it will not provide relief or reduce taxes, because assessments cannot increase or decrease the overall tax burden. Assessments are a distribution tool.

"It only will change who pays it," he said, adding the plan could cause confusion among residents.

Noble believes most people would pay higher property taxes and that average homeowners, some senior citizens and small businesses in particular would lose under the group's plan. Owners of expensive properties would benefit, he said.

Where does Cannon think tax money ought to go?

To the basics: police, fire, garbage pickup, street maintenance and education.

And what parts of government does he believe ought to be reduced?

He thinks government needs to leave the growth management business and that overall administrative costs should be cut. He also questions whether the University of Washington needs new buildings, and whether government should support low-income housing projects and programs to curb alcohol abuse.

Government, he thinks, should be responsible for cutting its own programs and agencies.

And if his property taxes were lowered, where would his money go?

Some of it would go to his Kirkland church, which sponsors projects in nearly 150 countries.

His philosophical outlook stems from his boyhood in North Dakota and lessons from his father, who taught him that hard work and personal responsibility count. Those lessons stuck.

The group officially started in 1992, after he and friends met to discuss why they were paying more in property taxes. Today, he talks at community meetings statewide.

He says he has supporters in 385 Washington towns, cities and unincorporated areas. (Note: The original version of this article did not include unincorporated areas in that list.)

At his house, he talks about state residents, who call him for advice, and an elderly woman, who used to live in his neighborhood. High property taxes, he says, prompted her to sell her home and move in with her daughter.

"That's not right," he said. "Some guys say to me, 'When are you going to get off this tax bit?' I say, 'When I draw my last breath.' "

On this day, with his breath filling his lungs, he stands in front of his house and spots a neighbor working on the roof of a home.

"How do you feel about your property taxes?" Cannon yells from across the street.

"They're way too high," the neighbor replies.

Cannon chuckles, turns around and heads back into his house.



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