Ballot includes tax measure, open space protections

October 20, 2009

By Staff

Washington voters will decide between now and Nov. 3 whether to cap property taxes and add additional protections for county conservation land.Voters are also asked whether to extend the rights of married spouses to same-sex partners and to update language in the county charter.

The statewide property tax measure has attracted the most attention from Issaquah municipal and school district officials. Initiative 1033 would limit the growth of city, county and state revenue to inflation and population growth, not including voter-approved revenue. Any revenue above the I-1033-mandated cap would be used to lower property taxes.

Activist Tim Eyman — known for past tax-busting efforts — led the push to get the measure on the ballot.

“We’re not reducing property taxes by making government smaller,” Eyman said. “We’re reducing property taxes by limiting the way government grows.”

Local I-1033 opponents said the measure would force deep service cuts.

I-1033 “puts governments into a financial hole from which they can’t get out as the economy improves,” Mayor Ava Frisinger said.

Issaquah municipal government would take a $1.1 million hit by 2011 if the initiative passes, she said. The drop in revenue could cause the city to lay off 17 or 18 employees, she said. Officials laid off 10 city workers last month.

City Council members passed a unanimous resolution Oct. 5 to oppose I-1033. Councilman Fred Butler called I-1033 “a bad idea at the wrong time.”

Estimates show the Issaquah School District could lose $38.9 million by 2015. The school board and the district’s PTSA Council oppose the tax measure.

“I think the results for 1033 won’t be seen immediately,” said Kelly Munn, a district parent and education advocate. “It is going to be a slow, hard march downhill for Issaquah, and year by year we are going to be cutting more and more.”

Munn said education reform and the money to pay for it would stall, making school districts less likely to reach goals and objectives set by state and federal governments.

“We are going to stall for five years, then put all of our efforts into running another bill to rescind it,” she said. “We have to change the initiative process. This is no longer working. No one wants to pay taxes, but everyone wants services.”

Eastside Fire & Rescue Chief Lee Soptich said he and his staff are concerned about the losses I-1033 could spur.

EFR provides fire protection and emergency response to Issaquah, Sammamish, North Bend, Carnation and parts of unincorporated King County.

“My professional opinion is that this will be the death nail for services,” Soptich said.

Eyman dismissed scenarios predicted by local officials as “pre-election hysteria.” He pointed to I-747: In 2001, voters passed the measure to limit annual property tax increases to 1 percent. Elected officials said the cap would force dramatic service cuts. After the measure passed, Eyman said, governments adapted to the new limit.

Courts later declared the measure unconstitutional. In 2007, however, the Legislature reinstated the 1 percent cap.

If governments can work within the framework of the 1 percent cap, Eyman said, the proposed limit should be workable as well.

“We’re going to give them a much higher limit: the rate of inflation and population growth,” he said.

King County voters will also decide whether to add the Open Space Amendment to the county charter. The item would strengthen protections for county land along Issaquah Creek, parts of Cougar and Squak mountains, and dozens of other natural areas throughout King County.

If voters approve, protected properties could only be sold by a supermajority vote of the King County Council.

County Councilwoman Kathy Lambert, who represents Issaquah, said although officials had no intention of selling the properties, the measure amounts to “us protecting ourselves from us.”

Lambert said the amendment would mean more than 90 designated properties would be “extra-extra-extra protected.”

The measure would not enable the County Council to buy more land or spend taxpayer money. The council voted 9-0 to send the measure to voters. In addition to the County Council, the Issaquah Alps Trails Club and Issaquah Environmental Council endorsed the Open Space Amendment. No organized opposition to the amendment has materialized.

Terry Lavender, co-chairwoman of Yes on the Open Space Amendment, said it would lay the groundwork for notices and hearings if officials sought to change the status of a protected site.

“We all believe it’s protected,” Lavender said. “The reality is, the protections could be undone.”

In addition to the Open Space Amendment, King County voters will decide three other charter amendments, or housekeeping measures to update the governing document.

Look back on the campaign season with election coverage from The Issaquah Press. Read candidate profiles; learn the issues in City Council, school board and county executive races; decode the nuances of county and state ballot issues; and find out how candidates drafted family members as campaign workers — all at www.issaquahpress.com/category/election.

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