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747 ruling won’t change budget process

Thursday’s decision by the Washington State Supreme Court declaring Initiative 747 unconstitutional will not affect Kitsap County’s ongoing budget-cutting process, according to the current chairman of the Kitsap County commissioners.

“This year, we have been focused on managing our county government and controlling our costs,” said Central Kitsap Commissioner Josh Brown. “We have made great progress in tightening our belts and are not going to deviate from this process.”

Initiative 747, approved by the state’s voters in 2001, restricted the aggregate increase of any tax district to 1 percent per year. By a 5-4 vote, however, the Washington State Supreme Court this week ruled the initiative unconstitutional, granting local municipalities the right to raise taxes up to 6 percent each year.

The ruling also allowed raising taxes retroactively, providing a potential carte blanche tax increase.

As Brown said, just because government can raise taxes doesn’t mean they will.

“If there was ever a massive recession, we might institute a lift to keep deputies on the street or keep the courts running,” he said. “We need that flexibility, but we are planning to live within our means.”

Initiative sponsor Tim Eyman, who saw another one of his initiatives pass in this week’s election, said he expected the state Legislature to institute the 1 percent increase as law, much as it did with the $30 car tabs.

“If the legislators don’t reinstate the 1 percent limit, taxpayers will be crawling out of their skin and going for blood,” Eyman said. “Even with the restriction they are getting slaughtered by their property taxes. And it would be a lot worse if we didn’t have the 1 percent limit.

“The limit is 1 percent, and the ruling is allows 6 percent,” Eyman said. “Now, people are saying they want to compromise between the two. But they don’t realize that 1 percent already is a compromise.”

Brown doesn’t suggest a specific compromise level, but feels the Legislature should take the opportunity to restructure the tax system.

”Washington has one of the most regressive tax structures in the country,” he said. “It’s embarrassing that local taxpayers are forced to pay for public defenders, and the cost is larger than the parks budget. It’s embarrassing that we have to pay so much to run our courts. In every other state, the state government supports the court system.”

Brown said the Legislature needs to make the tax structure more progressive, a position supported by Sen. Phil Rockefeller, (D-Bainbridge Island).

“Initiative 747 put a tourniquet on the ability of public agencies to provide public safety,” Rockefeller said. “I don’t think the Legislature will necessarily follow the precise language of 747. Instead, I expect they will use the legislative arena to hold public hearings and debate how to modify the limits. This will allow local governments to say how much they need to provide reliable and timely services.”

For his part, Eyman seems to agree with this — with an addition.

“I think they should call a special session,” he said.

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