Capping government revenues and cutting property taxes are goals of Initiative 1033, coming before voters on Nov. 3.
Though Tim Eyman calls his latest ballot proposal a practical check on government, Whidbey Island leaders say it threatens to disrupt local economic recovery and cripple public programs.
“There’s a lot of people stepping up out of concern including commerce members, Realtors, people in the health care industry, schools and conservationists,” said Angie Homola, county commissioner.
Eyman’s initiative to restrain government spending would limit the amount of revenue that the government can use at the city, county and state level. It would reinstitute an inflation plus population growth cap passed 12 years ago under Initiative 601.
I-601 was limited to the state level, and lawmakers have diluted it over the years. It has little effect today.
The new initiative has an added feature of requiring that revenues beyond the cap be refunded to property owners in the form of a tax cut.
While it may sound promising to some, Homola says the effects would hinder the quality of life.
In Island County, growth in property tax revenue is limited to 1 percent plus taxes on new construction.
Additionally, I-1033 would base its revenue limit on this year; a lean year in the recession.
“We are already struggling to provide the resources to the community that are necessary,” Homola said, citing the layoffs of 50 staff members and the struggling park programs.
She added that because it reduces the county’s ability to reserve money, it would be difficult to respond in emergency situations such as natural disasters or flu outbreaks.
At the city level, Oak Harbor Finance Director Doug Merriman said I-1033 would strain general government activities.
“There would be a gradual erosion for the city to pay for services it currently has,” Merriman said.
Rick Schulte, Oak Harbor schools superintendent, called I-1033 “one of the worst things that could happen to education.” By limiting the state’s general fund reserves, it limits the funds available to support school districts. About 42 percent of the general fund goes to K-12 education.
Eyman told the media that I-1033 has safety valves, however. If lawmakers want to exceed the revenue limit they can ask voters for permission. And like all voter initiatives, it could be modified by a simple majority of legislators after two years.
Schulte counters that too much money is already spent on special elections.
“In Oak Harbor, it costs $25,000 anytime we have an election plus the campaign committee raises $25,000,” he said of the process. “If every city, county and agency needed an election every time they needed relief, we’d spend a lot of money and time.”
The state Office of Financial Management estimates that I-1033 will reduce state revenue by about $5.9 billion by 2015.
However, opponents compare the measure to a similar initiative in Colorado which caused cuts in education, health care and roads and highways. The coalition to defeat I-1033 is made up of 210 groups.
Washington voters have passed eight of Eyman’s initiatives over the past 12 years.