Opinion

County lid lift brings out differences

Kitsap County government’s property tax “lid lift” ballot proposition has prompted a debate about more than the money that would be involved in the requested tax increase.

Some elements of this debate bring to mind the adage, “it’s not the money — it’s the principle of the thing.”

The frequent retort to this old adage is that whenever someone says it’s not the money, it is the money.

In this case, though, the piddling amount that individuals would pay if the tax increase is approved makes it difficult to believe that the argument is really about the money.

Raising the county property tax levy by a nickel per thousand dollars of assessed value would cost most households something in the neighborhood of $12 per year in each of the six years the lid lift would be in effect.

So, when opponents argue that they see this as an inappropriate use of government power to take money and use it to help the homeless and poor, maybe we have to accept that they really mean it.

They may be wrong when they claim that this sort of thing should be accomplished by charitable donations or that it isn’t even within the government’s authority, but they actually don’t think so.

The statement against the ballot measure in the voter’s pamphlet asserts that the state constitution doesn’t say our government can fund or operate such programs, and it seems impossible to believe that anyone would make such a statement to the public without believing it.

Unfortunately, this statement indicates a basic misunderstanding of the authority of state government and the counties which are political subdivisions of the state.

The federal government has only the powers enumerated in the federal constitution, but the state governments have the authority to do all that is not prohibited rather than only what is permitted in the constitution.

Unless you can find something in the constitution or general laws of the state that prohibits the programs which would be funded by this lid lift, then they’re authorized — and so is the proposed tax increase to provide the funds.

The statement in opposition also asserts that the existing levy for the county’s Veterans’ Assistance Program provides revenue that exceeds the program’s needs, which is factually incorrect.

The reason the lid lift would put up to $200,000 each year into the Veterans’ Assistance Program is that the current levy falls short of the program’s current expenditures by roughly that amount — and the fund balance that had accumulated in previous years can no longer fill the gap.

Without the lid lift, the commissioners must either cut this program that provides financial assistance to indigent veterans or take revenue away from other programs to make up the difference in 2012.

If some people honestly believe that charitable donations rather than taxes should pay for the purposes outlined in the proposition, it’s not really a matter of legality or insufficient need for the funds.  For them, it is the principle of the thing.

Since the tax increase can only be imposed if a majority of voters approve, the clear purpose of holding an election is to determine whether a majority think this is an appropriate function of government.

For those who consider it appropriate, one more hurdle stands in their way — the absence of specifics about the spending of the money.

It’s a piddling amount of money; but if it’s likely to be piddled away, why approve the tax increase?

The spending of most of the approximately $1.4 million a year that the tax increase would provide will be for the general purposes outlined in the proposition, but the details are to be decided later.

We know that up to $200,000 will go each year to the existing program to help indigent veterans, but the other will be spent after assessing all the needs and making choices among things that address those needs.

Getting over this last hurdle may require a bit of trust in the ability of our commissioners to make good choices, but that’s what representative government requires in any case.

 

Bob Meadows is a Port Orchard resident

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