Did voters know what they rejected?

After an election in which voters are asked to approve a tax increase, trying to figure out why the majority voted one way and not the other can be a useful exercise even though the reasons cannot be known with certainty.

A ballot proposition isn’t answered like an essay question, so no one can say for sure why the affirmative votes or negative votes constituted the majority.

If we want to improve the process of voting on such ballot measures, we need to know as best we can why the election came out the way it did.

Regular levy increases average about 3.5 percent a year under the limits imposed by Initiative 747, unless voters approve a bigger increase. So it is almost inevitable that property tax “lid lifts” will be proposed by each part of local government that depends on the property tax.

The Kitsap Regional Library ballot proposition provided the most recent example of an apparently unsuccessful attempt to bring revenue into line with spending plans. The vote count on election day indicates that the lid lift was rejected by the voters.

Simply describing the KRL proposition suggests some reasons for a rejection, but how many voters understood the essential facts about the requested tax increase?

Facing a budget deficit of about $2.1 million in 2008, KRL requested a levy increase of about $6.1 million — which would result in a budget surplus of about $4 million.

This year’s levy amount is $8.6 million, and next year’s would have been about $14.7 million if the voters had approved the increase.

KRL could have increased spending in 2008 and the next few years by more than 8 percent a year, or about $1 million each year — and still accumulate about $10 million of reserve funds by 2011.

Not all voters knew these facts; but for those who knew more than that the new tax rate would be 48 cents per $1000 of assessed value, what would these facts have suggested?

As noted in this column on April 7, it seems probable that people who understood the effect of the tax increase would at least initially think it was not an obviously appropriate proposition.

If this was the initial impression, would reasonable people have then looked to see if adequate justification was provided for such an increase?

One would hope so, and would also hope that the justification was easily available in the newspapers and on the KRL web site.

Did anyone see anything which identified the major factors that caused big increases in spending during the past two years and created the coming $2.1 million deficit?

Some things were obviously noted by supporters of the ballot measure. For example, the fact that the number of people holding library cards increased by 67 percent from 2001 through 2006 was often mentioned.

Did anyone notice that the number of people who actually went into a library increased by only 14 percent in that same period of time? Or that the number of books borrowed increased by 23 percent?

If you noticed the increase in library visitors and books borrowed, did you consider those to be more reliable indicators of increased demand and operating costs than the number of people holding library cards?

Did you find anywhere a list of the major spending increases in 2006 and 2007 with a dollar amount stated next to each one? If you found such a thing, did it affect your vote? If you didn’t find such an explanation, did the absence of it affect your vote?

Did you see any indication of plans for new library buildings or larger libraries which would be constructed in the near future and cause operating costs to balloon? The lid lift wouldn’t fund construction, but the cost to operate new or bigger libraries would be paid from the KRL levy.

If you believed an increase of more than 70 percent in the KRL levy was needed to pay the operating costs of new or bigger libraries within the next few years, how did that affect your vote?

With the prospect of a future KRL proposition and one from the county government as well, it seems important to find out what people want to know before deciding how to vote.

If KRL proposes a lid lift again this year, questions that affect your vote ought to be answered before the election. Otherwise, it seems like an expensive gamble to throw something out and sit tight waiting for the outcome.

The same holds true for the coming county lid lift proposition. County government involves many different programs and revenue sources, so it is more complicated. But wouldn’t that make it even more important to discuss the measure fully before election day?

Recognizing that the six or seven regular readers of this column are bashful, I realize it’s asking a lot to request that you speak up. But these questions are not posed for rhetorical purposes. I, for one, want to hear your answers.

Robert Meadows is a Port Orchard resident.

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