Initiative needed to relieve obscene, unsustainable property tax

Opinion by Tim Eyman
The News Tribune


Olympia, WA - The cumulative property tax burden in our state is obscene and unsustainable. Relief is long overdue. Our economy needs an economic stimulus. Lower property taxes will do that.

The government needs reform. Lower property taxes give governments no choice but to reform themselves.

If you agree, then what's the best proposal to reduce property taxes? We spent six months studying that very question, and the best and only answer was the 25 Percent Property Tax Initiative.

Opponents who say they're for lower property taxes but against this initiative either don't know the facts or are lying.

Here are the alternatives and why they will never happen:

"Why don't you freeze valuations and make them tax us on what we paid for our homes or roll back assessments?"

That idea is unconstitutional in the state of Washington. Some states allow citizens to change their state constitutions; Washington isn't one of them. Any proposal that seeks to protect taxpayers by changing valuations or assessments is a dead end and a waste of time.

Even if it got enough signatures (such efforts never will) and voters approved it, the courts would slap it down in a nanosecond. Such changes require a constitutional amendment, which requires a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to agree.

The Legislature will not agree to reduce taxes, let alone permanently enshrine lower taxes in the constitution.

I know that some supporters really want this, but we must deal with reality. This is a la-la-land fantasy that will never happen. Uniformly reducing property taxes is the only option.

"What about your long-time opponents' 'homestead exemption' proposal, exempting the first $30,000 of value from property taxes?"

Again, totally unconstitutional. We tried the exemption approach with one of our earlier initiatives, and the courts struck it down because this violates the uniformity requirement in the constitution. It's a dead-end proposal offered by people who are only proposing it to defeat our property tax initiative. Uniformly reducing property taxes is the only option.

"Why not reduce voter-approved levies, like school levies?"

It doesn't take a political strategist to know that this would never receive voter support. Besides, allowing governments to seek voter approval is the safety valve in the 25 Percent Property Tax Initiative. If politicians want more of our hard-earned tax dollars, they can always ask our permission.

Politicians know this safety valve is available, but they don't like it because it means explaining and justifying their spending of our tax dollars. But that's what we want: accountability.

"Why not reduce the state's portion of the property tax?"

State government is just one of over 1,700 taxing districts in Washington. These hundreds of governments jacked up property taxes the most, especially in recent years. Having 1,700 taxing districts delivering local government services is unwieldly, duplicative, and inefficient.

The 25 Percent Property Tax Initiative is a fantastic opportunity to reform this structure; reducing the state levy would have meant the reform of one taxing district; reducing local levies ensures the reform of hundreds of taxing districts.

Last year's experience by state government illustrates that financial challenges bring about long-overdue reform of government. Local taxing districts will benefit from going through the same process that state government did, prioritizing services, allocating available revenues to those priorities, and finally thinking outside the box.

In the private sector, prioritizing happens because of competition. With government, there is no competition. So the only effective way to get government to prioritize is to put reasonable limits on taxes, as our initiative would do.

Maybe most importantly, Initiative 747 uniformly reduced increases for these same taxing districts and passed overwhelmingly and took effect without a single legal challenge. Addressing these same taxing districts ensures a court-proof proposal.

The 25 Percent Property Tax Initiative is the only legal, constitutional, politically viable proposal that offers long-overdue tax relief, a big boost to our state's economy, reform of an unwieldy, inefficient governmental structure, no impact on school levies or education, with the safety valve of allowing voter permission for tax increases.

The alternative is continued escalation of our state's unsustainable property tax burden.

Tim Eyman, a professional initiative promoter, is a co-sponsor of the 25 Percent Property Tax Initiative. He heads Voters Want More Choices, a grass-roots taxpayer-protection organization (425-493-8707, www.Voters WantMore



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