Property taxes worry residents

Property taxes were on the minds of many who attended Saturday morning’s brunch with 10th District legislators in Oak Harbor.

Hosted by Whidbey Island League of Women Voters, the brunch at Henderson’s Restaurant provided some 75 residents a chance to meet with their representatives before the Legislature convened Monday, Jan. 10.

Rep. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, and Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, fielded questions for more than an hour. Rep. Chris Strow, R-Clinton, did not attend.

There were no simple answers to concerns about increasing property valuations and higher taxes, despite the recently-imposed 1 percent limit on how much taxing districts can raise property taxes without a vote of the people.

“I urge you to do something quickly,” Gordon Burton told the representatives. “Or else Mr. Eyman will strike again, God help us.” He was referring to initiative guru Tim Eyman, whose past initiatives have cut taxes while hurting government services.

“I don’t know what the answer is,” said Rep. Bailey. “None of us likes to be taxed … but every time you pull a tax away, they’ve got to find revenue somewhere else.”

Haugen pledged to try to get a “homeowner’s exemption,” in property calculations, something which she has tried in the past. This would give a property tax break to private homes but not other real estate. “We’ll introduce it and there’s broad support,” she said. She also urged people to take advantage of existing programs to limit property taxes for low income seniors.

A small building contractor from South Whidbey said he and his wife built their home four years ago, but if property taxes keep increasing at the present rate “we’re going to have to sell it and get out.”

Audience members seemed to agree that it’s unfair to see their taxes increase when a newcomer pays a large amount for a nearby property.

A woman who recently moved her from California said a house in her family built 50 years ago for $10,000 is now appraised at more than $1 million, but property taxes are only $750 annually, due to that state’s Proposition 13 some 20 years ago.

That’s not the answer here, Haugen replied, saying Proposition 13 “decimated” local governments in California and is “terribly unfair.”

There was also considerable talk about Washington’s tax structure, which is dependent on the sales tax. “It’s the most regressive in the nation,” Haugen said, citing a recent study funded by a Gates grant. “They use us as a bad example because we’re so sales tax dependent.”

Bailey said an income tax is not the answer, as voters would turn it down as they have in the past. “The 1 percent sales tax increase just failed at the polls,” she noted. “You have to come to grips as citizens with what you want government to do.”

Haugen has long support an income tax as part of an overhaul of the tax structure. “We’re so dependent on sales tax, perhaps we’ll get it (income tax) in the ballot again,” she said.

Bailey added, “If we got an income tax and change nothing else, it’s the worst thing that could happen.”

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