Opinion

Already taxed to the gills? Let’s find out

By November we might find out whether a majority of voters believe we are taxed enough already.

While our current tax burden may not exceed our ability to pay, quite a few people over the past year or more seem to be looking to the future as well.

Maybe it was a result of the high personal debt levels going into the economic recession that focused minds on the perils of borrowing more than you can repay on time.

When the federal government appeared to be going down a path that would pile up debts which would probably require higher taxes to repay, people noticed and understood the likely impact on their future tax burdens.

Adding lots more to the federal government’s debts doesn’t seem like a good idea to those who realize that there have already been more promises made in federal entitlement programs than we can comfortably afford to keep.

Since the available remedies — lower spending and higher taxes — involve unpleasant choices, it seems likely that campaign promises by congressional candidates and the election results will be ambiguous.

Even a substantial change in the numbers of seats held by each of the two major political parties may not answer the question whether we are taxed enough.

But it could alter the behavior of those who are elected, if they believe they know what most of their voters thought to be the answer.

At the state government level, we have a more direct way of finding out what voters think.

The Washington State Legislature has put Referen-dum 52 on the ballot for the November election, seeking voter approval to raise the state’s debt limit and borrow $505 million for projects to make public school and university buildings more energy efficient.

Paying back the debt would almost certainly require higher taxes.

One tax has already been identified in the proposal put to the voters — a continuation of the new sales tax on bottled water beyond its current 2013 expiration date.

If that were the only new tax needed to pay the debt, the burden would appear to be slight; but it isn’t necessarily the only revenue that will be needed.

And, if the voters approve this increase in the debt limit and issuance of $505 million in bonds, they will be on the hook to repay the debt even if it takes more than a tax on bottled water.

This looks like just the sort of thing that worried people about the federal government’s budget decisions. A significant new long-term debt would be incurred, and it would have to be repaid by higher taxes.

Of course, the proponents argue that the energy efficiency resulting from the projects will reduce government spending on energy in the future.

Maybe so, but unless the debt is to be repaid only from the promised savings it seems that overall spending merely goes up.

Here in South Kitsap, we may see how voters feel about tax burdens when the votes are tallied on two different but related ballot propositions.

Port Orchard residents will decide in August whether to annex the city into the Kitsap County Rural Library District.

Annexing into the library district would enable city residents to vote in library district elections, and would make them vulnerable to property taxes that exceed the usual “one percent plus new construction” annual levy increases.

If the library district’s board of trustees decides to put a property tax lid lift on the November ballot, the library district’s voters will decide whether to increase their own tax burdens.

A large part of the revenue from a lid lift would provide funds to pay for new library buildings, and the construction debts would likely be short-term.

The tax increase itself would continue in effect after the construction debts are paid.

If the construction industry remains in a slump, the cost of building new libraries may be a bargain.

But the slow economy that makes it likely the cost would be lower also makes it possible that voters will reject even a small tax increase.

Voters may not in all cases make their decisions based on a belief that they are taxed enough already, but the outcomes of this year’s elections surely will be influenced by that belief.

Bob Meadows is a Port Orchard resident.

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