It was the talk of conservative talk radio Monday and Tuesday, after the Seattle Times published an editorial Sunday with the dire headline “Warning: New taxes will be permanent.” Only problem was, the Times got it wrong. Dead wrong.
A change in the state law regarding property taxes has silently transformed what have been temporary tax increases into permanent ones.
We say “silently” because the Legislature, which made the change, did not name what it was doing in the bill title or the bill reports. The change is something every voter should keep in mind as the election arrives Tuesday and more new taxes are proposed in November.
Hmm. You’d think before the state’s largest newspaper prints an editorial impugning the integrity and/or competency of the Legislature, it might have given legislators or their staffers an opportunity to explain themselves, huh? And you’d think just maybe, before warning voters that “new taxes will be permanent” — just days ahead of crucial levy votes in yesterday’s election — the Times might want to double- or even triple-check their facts, right?
But the Times didn’t. As a result, thousands of voters went to the polls yesterday angry and confused, and had any of the regional levy votes been close, the Times’ factual error and lack of editorial judgment could have flipped the outcome.
On the surface, Senate Bill 5498 allows fire districts and other special-purpose taxing districts to ask voters for multiyear tax increases. It is the same authority cities and counties already had.
That’s the one part of the editorial the Times got right, except for their implication that there is something nefarious beneath the surface. There is in fact nothing beneath the surface.
The nonobvious part of the bill changed the old rule that unless a tax levy said specifically it was permanent, it wasn’t. Under the old rule, after a levy expired, Washington’s 1-percent property-tax limit would be set as if the levy had never happened. If voters didn’t renew the levy, their taxes would go down.
And what makes this change particularly “nonobvious” is that it just isn’t there. Here’s the “old rule” the Times talks about:
(2) After a levy authorized pursuant to this section is made, the dollar amount of such levy shall be used for the purpose of computing the limitations for subsequent levies provided for in this chapter, except as provided in subsections (3) and (4) of this section.
That’s also the text of the new rule, except it now references subsection (5). What this means is that the default behavior of a lid lift is now, and always has been, to permanently raise the base on which the limit factor is calculated… except as otherwise provided. That was the default under the old rule. That is the default under the new rule.
Under SB 5498 — a governor’s-request bill passed by large majorities in both houses — unless a tax levy says it is temporary, its authority is permanent. So says the Department of Revenue in an official memo to county assessors.
A) It wasn’t a “governor’s-request bill.” It just wasn’t. B) If the Times’ editors don’t understand the difference between a “permanent” lid lift and a “temporary” lid lift, they really shouldn’t be editorializing on the issue without thoroughly researching the subject. All they’ve succeeded in doing is making an already confusing issue even more confusing, but I’ll try to clear things up.
The whole purpose of a permanent lid lift is to permanently reset the base on which the limit factor is calculated. For example, lets say a fire district levied $100,000 in taxes from existing construction in 2003, the year I-747 went into effect. Under the initiative’s arbitrary 101-percent annual limit factor, the maximum dollar amount the district could levy by 2007 would be $104,060. But due to inflation, the purchasing power of this revenue is really only equivalent to $91,920 in 2003 dollars. Year after year, the fire district would steadily lose purchasing power, and be forced to steadily cut back services.
Or, the district could put before voters a permanent lid lift with a dollar rate that would increase total revenues to $115,000 in 2008, a figure that would pretty much reset the district’s revenue to 2003 levels in inflation-adjusted dollars. The 101-percent limit factor would subsequently be calculated on this new base, but over the years, that too would be eaten away by inflation. Better than slowly starving to death, but not a stable means of securing a reliable revenue stream for longterm planning. And also, quite costly. According to public testimony, South King Fire and Rescue has spent over half a million dollars over the past six years running a string of successful permanent lid lifts.
Under the old rules, counties, cities and towns had an additional tool at their disposal. They could instead choose to put before voters a multi-year temporary lid lift (up to six years) which states a dollar rate for the first year (just like a permanent lid lift,) but also specifies an index to be used as the limit factor for subsequent years of the levy, superseding I-747’s 101-percent limit. Each of the parks levies passed yesterday did exactly that, raising an additional $0.05 per $1000 of assessed value in the first year, and authorizing annual increases on that amount indexed to inflation. The parks levies thus produce a stable revenue stream of inflation-adjusted dollars throughout their six-year term.
But these lid lifts are temporary under both the old and the new rules, and when they expire the basis for calculating revenue limits under I-747 reverts to the maximum amount it would have been had the parks levies never been passed. It appears the Times kinda-sorta understands this, but then at the same time kinda-sorta doesn’t:
To be deemed temporary, a measure has to say when the tax expires, and it has to limit itself to specific purchases.
Right, and the parks levies do both these things.
Otherwise, in the year after the last tax increase authorized by voters, the new tax limit is 1 percent higher. Even if voters don’t renew the levy, the taxing authority can keep pushing taxes up — at a slower rate, but still up.
Poorly phrased, but um… what’s your point? That’s what permanent lid lifts have always been intended to do. You know, the kind of permanent lid lift the parks levies are not.
King County Assessor Scott Noble, who drew our attention to this, has looked over the 11 property-tax measures that will be on county ballots Tuesday: two for King County parks, two for Redmond, one for a hospital district and six for fire districts.
“All of them are permanent increases in new levy capacity,” he says.
Um… no they’re not, and the Times being
misled confused by Scott Noble being misled confused by a confusing DOR memo is no excuse for a string of sentences that clearly contradict each other. To be deemed temporary, a lid lift must limit itself to a period of time or a specific purpose, and the parks levies clearly do that. The new rules specifically state that “except as otherwise provided in an approved ballot measure under this section, after the expiration of a limited period … or the satisfaction of a limited purpose … subsequent levies shall be computed as if … the limited proposition … had not been approved.” The parks levies are temporary, and temporary levies by definition do not permanently increase levy capacity.
How can I be so sure? Well for starts I, um… read the fucking bill. And the RCW. And the WAC. And in the Times defense, this stuff is pretty damn confusing. So I called the House Finance Committee and asked a staffer to step me through it. He did. And he stands by the succinctly worded summary in the final bill report:
Any property taxing district with regular levying authority may seek multi-year lid lifts over a six year period in the same manner as counties, cities, and towns.
That was the clear legislative intent of the bill, and that is how committee staffers expect it to be written into the rules.
Of course, to the Times’ demerit, this stuff is pretty damn confusing, and so I simply cannot believe that they didn’t ask a legislator or staffer to step them through it before running such a hyperbolic and misleading editorial. The Times clearly considers foul-mouthed bloggers like me to be unserious, but at least I took the time to do my homework. Meanwhile Times editorial page editor James Vesely only compounds his paper’s error in a separate column, denouncing “a sneaky tax” he clearly doesn’t understand:
Voters should also pay attention to The Times editorial opinion on the fourth page of this section about an obscure change in state law that turns temporary taxes into permanent ones. Instead of asking for a four- or six-year levy increase on your property taxes, the new law takes the opposite view — that taxes are permanent unless they are specifically noted as temporary. It turns the approval of a levy from something voters see as binding for a few years into a perpetual tax that can be renewed, but at always higher levels.
No, no, no. Multi-year lid lifts are temporary by default, and remain so under the amended statute. Furthermore, Vesely clearly doesn’t understand the relative roles of permanent vs. temporary lid lifts, and now neither do his readers.
Sure, the lid lift statutes are complicated and confusing; hell, I didn’t get it right the first couple times I read through SB 5498. But the Times’ editors didn’t just get it wrong, they implied ill intent. Had the editors been strong supporters of the parks levies (or levies in general,) one wonders if they would have been so quick to jump to conclusions… or so eager to publish them just days before the vote?
Either way, the tone and timing of this editorial was simply irresponsible, and as such it deserves a retraction as prominently placed as the editorial itself. I eagerly await Sunday’s op/ed page.
It was incredibly irresponsible for Scott Noble to run to the press with this without checking with someone else. Was this election year jitters? Jim Nobles should take this and run. It’s pretty hard to not get reelected as assessor, you just don’t fuck up. This is definitely a huge fuck up for the county assessor.
Thanks for doing the leg-work on this one Goldy… it really helps clear it up.
The question I have, is will there be any official push-back from the powers that be on this issue? Either this is incredibly sloppy journamalism or, more likely considering the ‘news’ article teamed up with an editorial, a political set-piece by our good friends at the Times.
Either way, this seems like a very good issue to both educate people on and to put a foot down on the ridiculous gov’t is always evil meme. Catching them in an out-and-out political fabrication, or abject laziness, seems a good place to start.
Any chance of your bearding the lion on the show? I would luv to see the Times ‘splain this one.
Roger Rabbit spews:
“The Times clearly considers foul-mouthed bloggers like me to be unserious”
Reminds me of a businessman who told me, “If I don’t like the way you say something, I won’t listen to what you say.” (Yes, he’s a Republican.) In my book this guy was, well, superficial.
The Times considers a lot of people “unserious.” Richard Pope, for one; they’re predicting easy re-election for Jane Hague despite her DUI arrest and foul-mouthing to the officers who arrested her … because her opponent is Pope. What has Pope done to deserve being labeled “unserious” — besides spending only $1,200 on his campaign? Why should Hague be taken seriously anymore after her drunken, foul-mouthed behavior on June 2?
Why should Frank Blethen’s rants against the inheritance tax be taken seriously? Why should my rants against giving special treatment to heirs, to the tune of a $2.5 million exemption that no wage earner gets and a step-up in tax basis that no small investor gets, be considered “unserious”?
This whole issue of “serious” and “unserious” ought to be examined in more depth. When you get to the bottom of it, I think you’ll find that “unserious” is anyone the fishwrapper’s editors subjectively don’t like.
Roger Rabbit spews:
The NBA sure thought it was serious when Sonics co-owner McClendon candidly admitted the team’s owners planned to move to Oklahoma City all along:
“Sonics co-owner McClendon fined $250K
“By Percy Allen
“Seattle Times staff reporter
“The NBA fined Sonics minority partner Aubrey McClendon $250,000 for comments he made last week in The (Oklahoma City) Journal Record about … moving the team to Oklahoma City. …
“McClendon … told the Journal: ‘We didn’t buy the team to keep it in Seattle, we hoped to come here. …’
“The … tycoon had been a silent partner before his comments last week.”
Quoted under fair use; for complete story and/or copyright info see http://seattletimes.nwsource.c om/html/sonics/2003849240_soni 23.html
Maybe McClendon could have saved himself $250,000 by tossing in a vulgar word or two, so the NBA would think he was “unserious,” ergo,
“We didn’t buy the fucking team to keep it in that shithole Seattle, we hoped to come here. …”
See? You just gotta know how to talk to people! It’s money in the bank. I learned a long time ago that if I want a Republican businessman to listen to me, I have to tell him what he wants to hear, the way he wants to hear it. It seems to me if Richard Pope can refrain from public use of vulgar language between now and the election, the Times should endorse him. Without a doubt, he understands tax laws and the other arcane minutiae of running a county government a hell of a lot better than they do.
Roger Rabbit spews:
If McClendon tells the truth 1,999 more times, they’ll have enough money for their arena without a lid lift, temporary or otherwise.
There wasn’t much legislative push back I imagine because House Finance chair Ross Hunter is recovering from experimental cancer treatment and many other legislators are on vacation. Committee staffers seemed eager to set the record straight when asked, but it’s not their job to reach out to the media.
Roger @5 & 6… awfully damn close to being deleted for being off-topic, but you manage to tangentially save yourself. Just barely. Let’s try to keep the tangents tangential rather than the main thrust of the comment. There are plenty of open threads, and you just know I’ll post on this subject.
That is a great idea SJ…. call them onto the show and if they are too chicken to show up you can flog them for that too.
Obviously it is Goldy’s call, but we are in the early days of blogdom. It would be great to see blogs competing head to head with the old media.
SJ @ 9 – Blogs already do compete with the old media and I think a lot of corporate media outlets are really struggling with what to do now. I would guess that KIRO wanted someone with a foot in the blog world and that is part of the reason why Goldy got the job he has… well that and saying fuck all the time would endear him to anyone.
But ultimately I think they are complementary in the way that talk radio is often used alongside print and tv news.
While talk radio and TV news is much more about slogans and 10-15 second “takes”, blogs allow for much more nuanced discussion and much, much more research and evidence. Newspapers are very uneven, but these types of editorials show less knowledge and forethought than goes into almost any real blog entry.
Ideally I suppose blogs and bloggers would be able to do exactly what Goldy has done here and then propel this into formats such as talk radio that would then publicize the story. As you say, this is Goldy’s call, but I would really enjoy seeing the Times and the Right-wing Noise Machine choke on this one somehow.
Once again kudos to Goldy for keeping the local traditional media honest.
Funny we haven’t seen any tax-crazed trolls like Gassy Sh*thead (GS) coming in here to tow the Seattle Times’ line.
Clownstein it is already a known fact that you will say any lie to elect liberals. The rest of your sycophants will echo in with references to make genitalia and sex acts as political discourse. Perhaps one of you could inform Elizabeth Edwards about how they are “lowering the level of political discourse”.
Union Machinist spews:
“Clear skies initiative.”
“Paycheck protection act.”
Roger Rabbit spews:
@7 Seriously, Goldy, I think you should look into this whole “unserious” business! Why should the Seattle Times get to decide who’s serious, and who isn’t? For example, you’re a lot more serious than they are — you went to the trouble of getting the story right. They didn’t. If we’re going to have a community arbiter of who is serious and who isn’t, you’re more qualified than they are.
Roger Rabbit spews:
@7 “you manage to tangentially save yourself. Just barely”
That’s nothing! You have no idea how much FUN it is to let a dog think he’s going to catch you, then just when he thinks he’s got you, you put on a burst of speed … =:-D
we are totally on the same plane. I feel, however, that blogdom is still in this early days and we do not know, yet, how things will evolve in a capitalist sense.
One of the differences between blogdom and traditional media is that the low cost of blogging means there is a very large community our there to catch errors. OTOH, to be effective, blogdom also need to generate $$.
It seems to me that in some ways DG is a pioneer.
proud leftist spews:
The Seattle Times offers ever more proof of the rightwing bias of the media. If even in a liberal market such as Puget Sound we see such bias in a major newspaper, we can only imagine the rot to which readers in places like Omaha and Wichita get treated. Sloppy analysis, failure to investigate, and rightwing slant–such does not produce material that will educate the reader. If not for EJ Dionne, Doonesbury, and the sports coverage, I’d have to cancel my subscription to the Times.
Proud Leftist You are a MOE-RON.
Did you quickly forget the Seattle Times newsroom cheered when Karl Rove resigned.
Of course you did… it happened more than 24 hours ago… Proof positive you are a Moonbat!
@17: You are exactly correct, except that I find that any of the local rags are equally worthy of being pooped on at the bottoms of my birds’ cages.
@18: Even Republicans were glad to see Rove go – he was becoming a public embarrassment, even you have to understand that.
To the point that PL raised in 17, I can understand the Times’ ownership’s self-interested stance regarding the estate tax, but this editorial just looks like they are taking the Grover Norquist view of government. Pathetic. More rich white men who aren’t content with barely limited power to plunder. I have to say, people like the Blethens just make me respect Old Man Gates (Bill’s daddy) more and more.
Roger Rabbit spews:
@18 “Did you quickly forget the Seattle Times newsroom cheered when Karl Rove resigned.”
No, only Nicole Brodeur did, and she got reprimanded for it.
Roger Rabbit spews:
And publicly reprimanded, at that, on the editorial page, no less.
Roger Rabbit spews:
The Seattle Times is sooo indequate in sooo many ways.
Roger Rabbit spews:
Frank Blethen isn’t fooling anyone with his sweaters and Hemingway beard. He’s a rich white guy who doesn’t want to pay taxes and wants us all to vote for the fascists.
Roger Rabbit spews:
@19 It almost makes you hope their rag goes under and gets bought out by the Hearst organization, doesn’t it? A generation ago, I never dreamed I’d hope for anything good happening to a Hearst paper. That’s how bad the Blethens are.
17 “The Seattle Times offers ever more proof of the rightwing bias of the media.”
Well, it’s indicative of the rightwing bias of the Times, anyway. Frank Blethen has clearly allowed his frenzied obsession with inheritance taxes and his bitterness over the strike a few years back to blow away any pretense of objectivity.
Other publications have their own reasons for slip-sliding to the right…but yeah, no doubt it’s there in general. It certainly doesn’t help that there are media outlets like Faux News and the Washington Times that are nothing at all but well-funded propaganda machines for murderous, degenerate fascists.
I get emails from Dwight Pelz…. I send him money…. I volunteer for him…. What is he doing right about now?!?
Frankly I think Democrats still are a bit too used to the negative corporate media environment we have been in for the last 10-15 years. If we were talking about how the blogs interact with MSM, I think the activists on the net can help give our party a sorely needed backbone as well.
Push back Dwight!
Mark The Redneck-Goldstein spews:
Horseshit…as fucking usual..
Given the loooongstanding anti taxpayer and illegal behaviors by gummint at every level, I have no doubt that they would try to pull some kind of shit like this so they don’t have to keep asking The Producers for more of OUR FUCKING MONEY.
If fucking criminals like Ron Sims had a track record of being honest and transparent, then maybe I’d trust him and his ilk. But the fact of the matter is that he blatantly disregards the will of The People because he’s just another greedy arrogant elitist librul moonbat fucking asshole.
Doesn’t matter… doesnt’ change my votes one bit. I still vote FOR all tax reductions, and AGAINST all tax increases. Reason is real simple: gummint already takes too fucking much of MY money.
Interesting news Pelletmaker. Again you are wrong as in many other things.
I still vote FOR all tax reductions, and AGAINST all tax increases. Reason is real simple: gummint already takes too fucking much of MY money.
Let’s say you live in an area protected by a fire district. They need a lid lift or they’re going to have to lay people off. If they lay people off, their insurance grade gets worse, which means your insurance rates will go up significantly more than the money you would’ve paid in the tax increase.
You mean to tell me that you’d vote no on this tax increase so that instead of the money going to your local government it’d go to an insurance company? Are you really that stupid?
You know those two guys sitting on the porch playing banjo in “Deliverance”
That was Kemper Freeman Jr. and Frank Blethen.
Sometimes, Hollywood casting is dead on.
Jim King spews:
Well, with the prime sponsor of the bill, the Department of Revenue, and all other authorities dealing with this legislation now agreeing that Scott Noble and the Seattle Times analysis are dead on, what is your latest spin?
Would the senator be vowing to run a corrective bill next year if correction wasn’t necessary?