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Major tax changes due if I-722 is approved

"What Island County Assessor Tom Baenen calls a very complex initiative could change the way property is assessed in this state.Initiative 722 will be on the Nov. 7 ballot. Here's what will happen if it passes, according to the League of Women Voters:* Property tax will not be paid on motor vehicles.* Property tax increases by governments after 1999 will be no more than 2 percent a year.* Property will keep its 1999 assessed value, plus no more than a 2 percent increase a year.* Local taxing districts cannot save their unused taxing capacity.* Taxes or fees adopted by the government between July 2, 1999 and Dec. 31, 1999 will be refunded.* Tax increases that voters approved will not be refunded.Baenen, speaking at a recent Issues Night sponsored by the South Whidbey League of Women Voters, was careful not to take a position on I-722. But the information he presented shows that if it passes, property owners will receive a tax break while Island County and other taxing districts would take a financial hit.The initiative would limit annual property tax increases to 2 percent or the cost of living, whichever is lowest. This would happen to property regardless of its market value, Baenen said. That's a big change from the present system where property is taxed at its fair market value. Depending on location, some property values increase substantially in any given year, while other property may increase very little.It will have a significant impact on taxing districts, Baenen said.According to the state Department of Revenue, here is what Island County taxing districts would lose if I-722 takes effect in 2001: County General expense, $127,600; County Road, $110,400; Cities, $353,000; Local Schools, $0.00; Libraries, $129,300; Hospitals, $55,400; Fire Districts, $289,300; EMS, $143,200; Ports, $181,800; Other Districts, $27,000.For 2001, the total loss in property tax revenue in Island County would be $1.4 million. In 2002 that would increase to $2 million, and in 2003 to $2.5 million.One possible problem with I-722, sponsored by Tim Eyman, is its complexity. Last week the state Supreme Court shot down I-695, another initiative that tackled more than one subject. It will likely be challenged (in court), Baenen said of I-722.Arguments for: According to the League of Women Voters, here are some arguments for I-722:* People should not pay new taxes unless they vote on them.* Property taxes are too high. Older people on fixed incomes who bought their houses long ago cannot pay their taxes.* Motor vehicles should never be taxed as property.* Property taxes can only be increased 2 percent a year .Arguments against: The League of Women Voters cites the following arguments from opponents of I-722:* Because of these tax limits, people whose houses are increasing in value will not be paying their fair share.* People elected to our government should be able to increases fees and taxes if needed.* Many important services will suffer because of the loss of funds, including schools, buses, fire and police protection. "

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