Opinion

When is a cap not really a cap at all?

When is a cap not really a cap at all?

Caps on tax and spending increases that can be exceeded with the approval of a simple majority are no caps at all, yet the proponents of simple-majority approval continue pushing for it.

Fortunately for residents of Legislative Districts 26 and 35, two of three bills that proposed simple-majority approval appear to have been defeated during this legislative session.

House Bill 1484 proposed the imposition of higher regular property tax levies to fund higher payroll spending in school districts — if approved by a simple majority of voters in any county desiring to impose such a tax.

For those of us who want our legislators to represent our interests rather than follow the party line, there was good news in the apparent demise of HB-1484: 35th District Reps. Bill Eickmeyer and Kathy Haigh, as well as the 26th District’s Derek Kilmer and Pat Lantz, were among the few Democrats who voted no.

The bill passed in the House with the assistance of a handful of Republicans from districts where the property tax base would make it relatively easy to rely more heavily on locally collected revenue, but it seems to have died in the Senate.

One would like to think the four Democratic representatives from our area voted against HB-1484 because it would have increased the school districts’ reliance on local taxes to the detriment of districts whose tax bases couldn’t support higher taxes.

Rather than risk being disabused of this pleasant notion, it’s probably better not to ask them why they did what they did.

Measures like HB-1484 are possible because the state’s share of regular property tax levies has not increased as quickly as the rise in total property valuation in the past 10 years. The state levy is now significantly less than the constitutional limit.

Instead of increasing the state tax to provide greater funding for all school districts, HB-1484 would have delegated to each county the authority to use part of the state’s levy authority — thereby easing the way for reduced state school funding and greater reliance on locally collected taxes.

Adding insult to injury (and revealing the true colors of its proponents), HB-1484 would have authorized a bigger share of the revenue for those districts that already have greater funding - making the funding differences among school districts worse, not better.

Simple majority approval or not, HB-1484 was a rotten idea that contravened the Legislature’s constitutional obligation to provide funding for a uniform system of schools for all children in this state.

Not all the news was good. Our House Democrats again voted to change the constitution to allow approval of excess property tax levies for the support of schools by a simple majority rather than the 60-percent supermajority now required.

Fortunately, the proposed constitutional amendment met its demise in the Senate, so we are again spared the risk that Legislators in the more affluent areas know their constituents well.

Given the chance to vote on such a constitutional amendment, their constituents would almost surely approve it and leave the rest of the school districts eating at the second table when it comes to obtaining school funding from the state.

Making it easier to pass local excess levies would reduce the incentive representatives of wealthier districts now have to impose higher taxes on their constituents for the benefit of all public schools in this state.

Our Democratic legislators in the House apparently could recognize the regional impacts of HB-1484, so maybe — before it’s too late — they will come to understand the impact of amending the constitution to remove the supermajority needed to approve excess levies.

The third bill involving a simple-majority proposal was, of course, Substitute Senate Bill 6078, which repealed the tax and spending limits imposed by the voters through Initiative 601.

Instead of capping spending increases by limiting them to inflation plus population growth, SSB-6078 put in place a formula allowing the state to take a certain share of total personal income and spend it.

And, instead of requiring a supermajority in each house to approve tax increases as established by I-601, SSB-6078 authorizes approval by a simple majority.

You might be able to put some breathing space between your own earnings and your expenditures, but you aren’t likely to get far ahead of the tax man now that SSB-6078 has been enacted.

Kilmer voted against repealing I-601, but Eickmeyer, Haigh and Lantz voted for it.

One might speculate that Kilmer is unsure of his chances for election to a second term, so he doesn’t want to be on record as voting to repeal I-601.

Whatever their rationales for their votes, it is beyond cavil that a cap that can be exceeded by a simple-majority vote in the Legislature is no cap at all.

Perhaps the repeal of I-601 will cause voters to realize that initiatives can be amended by the Legislature just like other laws, so it’s really important to pay attention when electing legislators.

Robert Meadows is a Port Orchard resident.

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