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Heeding the numbers

On Wednesday we cautioned that Democrats should be careful around ambitious fundraising – meaning, in the main, tax – proposals for the next little while, this a conclusion drawn from results in the Tuesday election that consistently showed tax proposals failing almost uniformly. They failed with the cigarette tax in Oregon and transit taxes in the Puget Sound and school levy override law in Washington and gas taxes in Eugene. Other, various, kinds of proposals passed, but these money plans did not, and the consistency is so clear that the message should be obvious.

Early indications in Washington, at least, are that Democrats there are observing the caution. Immediate evidence of that sprang not from the election but from a state Supreme Court decision the day after.

That was in Washington Citizens Action of Washington v. Washington, which threw out Initiative 747, passed by the voters in 2001, setting property tax caps. The initiative was a Tim Eyman special, and we’re no great fans of it. For whatever it’s worth, after reading the decision we think the 5-4 majority got it wrong – its convoluted logic suggesting that the voters were misled, a point skewered by the dissenters: “If a voter were to simply read the text of the initiative, the voter would have understood that I-747 reduced the property tax levy limit to one percent. This is not misleading.”

The decision presumably opens the door to major property tax increases by local governments – the “nightmare scenario,” according to Eyman, who called for a special legislative session to reverse the effect of the decision.

Governor Chris Gregoire didn’t quite go to that point, but she did warn local governments not to raise taxes. Her statement: “I plan to push for legislation that establishes a one percent cap on annual property tax increases. I am already in discussions with legislative leaders on the best next steps to make sure we can implement this correctly. I am urging local leaders and taxing districts to not increase their tax levies, based on the court decision, to give the legislature time to act. The voters approved Initiative 747, it has been in place for five years and I think we need to leave it in place.”

Other Democrats seemed to be falling into that line as well. They appear to have taken note of the results from Tuesday’s elections.

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