Opinion

2008 session bodes ill for South Kitsap

When the Washington State Legislature reconvenes in a few weeks, residents of South Kitsap can once again cringe while awaiting the output.

Will our lawmakers heed our wishes as expressed in two elections and leave the passenger-only ferry (POF) idea alone?

When amending the law on property tax “lid lifts,” will they make it simpler and allow a straightforward election to approve or reject a temporary “limit factor” different from the 1 percent now in law?

If they attempt to adjust the property tax system to limit annual increases on individuals, will we like the result?

You may wonder why anyone would be considering the POF issue again, unless you noticed that the Kitsap Transit board of directors decided to lobby for a new way to raise the revenue needed to pay for this expensive idea.

Knowing that the voters would probably again reject a new tax to pay for POF service, the goal is to modify state law to authorize the creation of a new taxing district including the areas where taxes are collected but where fewer voters reside.

It is similar in effect to the previous idea of redrawing the boundaries of Kitsap Transit’s countywide area in order to avoid letting everyone vote on the tax proposal. The new district, if it needed voter approval at all, would start with boundary lines that exclude many voters who previously rejected new taxes.

Voters could cringe in silence, or some of those in the majority who already twice rejected the new tax could communicate with their legislators about it.

Property tax lid lifts ought to be simple to propose, consider and vote on. The idea is simple — adjust the levy lid for a few years to provide sufficient revenue for necessary government spending.

Unfortunately, the Legislature has made it more complicated by adding provisions about supplanting existing spending, limiting the new revenue to specific projects, and using the last year of a lid lift as the basis for calculating the future levy lids.

Maybe there are taxing districts who want to use such complications in an effort to improve their chances of gaining voter approval, but couldn’t those extras be made available without requiring everyone to use them?

When a taxing district can demonstrate to the voters that annual increases need to be higher by a certain amount, the ballot title ought not to be cluttered up with talk of supplanting, specific projects, and the rest.

If a taxing district is already spending reserve funds to cover annual deficits, how could it use the existing lid lift law which requires that new funding not supplant existing spending?

The reserve funds will eventually run out, so the existing spending requires new revenue.

Such a taxing district cannot propose a small initial increase followed by several years in which the increases are a little bigger than they otherwise would be. Instead, it must ask for a large increase in one year to eliminate the deficit and have a surplus for a few years.

Maybe we will be fortunate enough to have a few lobbyists pushing for a simpler method as the legislature considers how to straighten out the confusion created this year about identifying temporary and permanent lid lifts.

The property tax system itself will probably be the subject of much discussion, since perceived problems fit well into both parties’ rhetoric.

Democrats are likely to talk a lot about regressive taxation as they seek to build support for a state income tax.

Republicans can be expected to talk about the danger of being taxed out of one’s home as they seek to limit tax increases.

We in South Kitsap have recently felt the effects of large annual increases. This year, the average increase in the total property tax bill was greater than 10 percent.

The Port of Bremerton’s new tax caused almost half that increase, but another big part resulted from the system itself.

Our share of the state property tax (also known as the state school tax) has increased in the past few years, since our total property valuation rose much more than the statewide average.

If the system were changed to prevent such shifts of the tax burden from one county to another, or from one person to another, we would be stuck at the peak after the recent increases.

Freezing tax shifts back in 2002 would have been nice, since our share of the state tax went up in 1998-2001 by less than the increases from new construction. In other words, the average state tax on existing property went down in that period.

Over the long run, the shifts back and forth average out; so would anyone like to stop now while we are at the peak?

The key to reducing the impact of tax increases on individuals is to limit the increases which can be imposed on all of us as a group. With effective limits, we would cringe a lot less.

Robert Meadows is a Port Orchard resident.

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