The Seattle Times doesn’t much like the rabble calling bullshit on one of their editorials:
Legislators, a local think-tank intellectual and an Internet fulminator all declared we were flat wrong about SB 5498, and that it did not silently transform anything.
By “Internet fulminator” the Times is of course referring to me, and while I wouldn’t mind being derided as an “intellectual” once in a while, if this is the type of fulmination it takes to coax the Times into engaging in a higher level of discourse on complicated issues of tax policy, well then, fulminate I must.
The Times stands by its take on SB 5498, and I stand by mine. At issue is a vaguely worded memo by a midlevel Department of Revenue staffer that seems to interpret one provision of the bill contrary to the stated legislative intent. The Attorney General’s office has been asked to review the DOR memo, and that is the opinion that will ultimately count. But my dismay with the Times original editorial extends far beyond dueling interpretations of a couple paragraphs of obscure legalese.
Coming just days before a handful of crucial levy votes, the Times original editorial was irresponsible in both tone and timing, attempting to speak authoritatively on an issue that was far from settled and on which they apparently lacked much authority. The Times’ efforts to impugn the motives of legislators were unfounded and uncalled for, its discussion of levy lid lifts muddled and contradictory, and its alarmist headline, “Warning: New taxes will be permanent,” was flat out wrong, regardless of the AG’s pending interpretation. A temporary lid lift raises both levy capacity and taxes; even if the new law makes capacity increases permanent — and the legislators who wrote the law continue to maintain that it does not — the tax increase itself would still expire at the end of the levy. District officials (councilmembers, commissioners, etc) could vote to increase regular levies to the limit of the new capacity, but they would be held accountable to voters for any perceived abuse of their taxing authority.
While I applaud the Times for following my lead and presenting a more in-depth discussion of lid lift basics in their new editorial, they still fail to make an adequate distinction between increasing statutory levy capacity and actually raising taxes, and they totally avoid a conversation about permanent versus temporary lid lifts. And perhaps most importantly, they refuse to address the issue that creates the need for frequent lid lifts in the first place, the totally inadequate and arbitrary 1-percent limit on revenue growth… well below inflation let alone growth in demand for government services.
… the law needs to be restored to what it was. In passing Initiative 747, the voters of Washington imposed a 1 percent limit per year on how much a taxing district can increase its gross collections from existing properties.
I-747’s 1-percent limit was vindictive and unsustainable, and a responsible editorial page would point this out instead of sticking to the meme that initiatives to the people, no matter how stupid, are somehow inviolate. The state constitution does indeed grant special status to initiatives, protecting them from being overturned by an act of the Legislature for a period of two years. But once that two years is up an initiative is the same as any other law — and the only thing more irresponsible than a dumb-ass (and possibly unconstitutional) initiative designed to cripple the ability of local governments to function, would be a timid Legislature refusing to address the problems it created out of fear of an editorial backlash.