Election promises as many tricks as treats

It’s often fun to deal with kids who show up on Halloween at our doorsteps with cries of “trick or treat.”

One evening’s amusement for all, lots of funny costumes, and no real danger of an unpleasant trick combine to make the evening a good diversion from life’s more serious matters.

Dealing with government’s “trick or treat” lasts a lot longer and isn’t nearly as amusing.

Officials don’t entertain us with funny costumes, much less limit themselves to one evening a year as they search for “treats.”

To be fair, even though being fair isn’t fun either, government leaders don’t get to choose the circumstances in which they carry out the public’s business.

For the near future, we can count on one “trick or treat” after another, as government revenues either decline or grow at a snail’s pace.

If voters repeal the sales tax on candy, soda and bottled water in Tuesday’s general election, the revenue reduction will have to be accommodated with either other tax increases or spending cuts.

Even if voters approve a state income tax in the same election, it seems likely that court challenges will delay the receipt of new revenue from it.

If some state revenue disappears and nothing replaces it for the coming year or so, one place to look for another “trick or treat” will be the local school districts.

State funding to equalize local school levy burdens is vulnerable to reductions in the next legislative session.

South Kitsap School District may find that the projected levy equalization funding doesn’t arrive on schedule.

Maybe legislators can be persuaded that cutting this spending is inadvisable, since the cut would impact only those districts that now receive levy equalization funding.

Or, maybe they will merely point to the district’s authority to ask the voters for more money with its own local “trick or treat” ballot proposition for a levy increase.

If a property tax increase is needed to prevent school district budget cuts, it isn’t likely the legislators will do it themselves by raising the state’s school tax.

Not all districts would benefit, unless the statewide increase is big enough to do more than save levy equalization.

When there’s a choice between explaining to voters why their taxes went up to help some other school districts and having to explain to no local voter why some other districts had their funding cut, the absence of a need to explain wins almost every time.

Another probable revenue problem results from the continuing decline in real estate market values, but this one has no easy solution.

Among the levies paid by South Kitsap residents, one that is near and dear to us and another that is generally despised will probably continue to go down in 2011 and 2012.

The South Kitsap Fire and Rescue levy for emergency medical services is at its maximum tax rate, so the revenue collected will be less next year and probably the following year.

There’s no probable “trick or treat” for the EMS levy, unless the fire district tries for voter approval of an excess levy.

For the Bremerton Port District’s special six-year levy to pay for the new marina, the same situation exists — lower revenue even when the maximum tax rate continues to be applied.

And, finally, there is the county government’s situation — declining revenue from sales taxes and real estate excise taxes creates pressure for some sort of tax increase.

Maybe the legislature will give the county authority to place an excise tax on our utility bills.

Or maybe the county will put a proposal to the voters for either a sales or property tax increase.

Unless the economy surprises everyone by suddenly growing at a healthy pace, look for government’s version of Halloween to occur several times in the next year — but don’t expect to be amused.

The “trick” that occurs unless you provide the “treat” can sometimes be unpleasant as government cuts spending — but so is providing the “treat.”

Bob Meadows is a Port Orchard resident.

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