It’s as if the editors at the Seattle Times live in a world entirely free of context:
The proposal now before the Seattle City Council is to double the existing property-tax levy devoted to parks, to $54 million a year, raising the annual cost for the owner of a $400,000 home from $76 to $168. It is not a backbreaking addition, but it would tighten the squeeze on middle-class families already struggling with Seattle’s cost of living.
And it furthers a trend of jumbo specialty property levies. The annual amount of dedicated “lid-lift levies” jumped over the past decade from $65 million to $146 million. The Families and Education Levy doubled in 2011 and the low-income housing levy jumped 50 percent in 2009.
Yeah, true. But you know what else has jumped over the past decade? The hundreds of millions of regular property tax levy dollars (those that don’t require a public vote) lost to Tim Eyman’s I-747, an initiative soundly defeated within Seattle. I-747 limits regular levy growth to an absurd 1 percent a year. So while voter-approved dedicated lid-lift levies may indeed be $81 million higher than they were a decade ago (if you can trust the Seattle Times editorial board’s numbers), I-747 will cost city coffers as much as $186 million in 2015 alone, the first year the proposed parks levy would take effect!
Is it great policy to move all this funding out of the general fund and into dedicated levies? No. It’s stupid. But thanks to I-747, the only other alternative would be to grow the $267 million parks maintenance backlog the editors already lament.
That is the context in which all these lid-lift levies have gone to the ballot. And unless we debate the parks district proposal within that context, it’s not really an honest debate at all.