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California, here we come

Photo courtesy Northwest Progressive Institute

At times, Tim Eyman's efforts to get attention for his initiatives have bordered on the comic, such as when he showed up at a 2006 press event dressed as Darth Vader. Credit: Northwest Progressive Institute

Initiative 1033, Tim Eyman’s latest attempt to Californicate Washington, is headed for the November ballot. It has an alluring subtext: “Limiting the tax burden on Washington’s citizens.” That’s the sales pitch for those who do not care to read 15 pages of fine print and do not plan to make use of government services from now until the coroner (if we can still afford one) pronounces them dead.

I-1033 roughly parallels the lead up to the current debacle in California where the state has been teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. As we speak, lawmakers there are poised to pass a budget that would end health care coverage for tens of thousands of seniors and children, lay off thousands of teachers, slam the doors on higher education, open the doors of prisons, and drill for oil off the coast. Anthony Wright, director of Health Access California, branded the plan “an embarrassment and shame.” He was quoted saying, “Millions of Californians will live sicker and die younger as the result of these cuts.”

And let us not forget, the once proud Golden State was brought there by citizen initiatives that limited the state’s ability to raise money in a down economy to pay for programs and services that, in many cases, were voted in by citizen initiative without regard for where the money would come from. California’s insanity — a complete disconnect between goals and means — is to be avoided at all costs.

Could such a catastrophe happen here? Indeed it could. I-1033 is a Northwest version of the slippery slope of California’s revenue-strangling Proposition 13. Among its Eyman-esque features:

  • I-1033 is notoriously badly written. Never mind for the moment the potentially disastrous impacts; it is also operationally insane. It mandates steps that are tactically impossible. Under I-1033, state, county, city, and other taxing districts must pass budgets based on inflation figures that won’t be available until after budgets, by law, must be written and passed.
  • There appears to be no equitable or timely way to calculate assessed property valuations to mesh with the “refund” steps required by the initiative. Once again, it’s a mandate to government to figure out how to fulfill a sales-pitch promise. Perhaps the only way to comply fully with I-1033 would be to repeal time, space, and gravity.
  • I-1033 would freeze tax receipts at the depths of the worst recession in the last 29 years. Budgets pared to the bone to reflect tough times would then become the ceiling, modified only by inflation (figured nationally, not locally) and population growth, without regard for local demographics. An aging population, for instance, might require more health services.
  • Under I-1033, economic recovery would be slowed by weakened and stunted governments. As the Obama administration has shown, government can provide stimulus in times of economic distress. But, if hobbled by inflexible limits, government would be unable to offer the boosts to the private economy, making recovery a long, painful process.
  • New development when and if it comes would be stifled by the inability of government to respond to any signs of recovery. Furloughs, layoffs, and hiring freezes do not presage efficiencies. Buildings have to be hooked up to electrical service, to sewer systems and water utilities. How would that happen with government services set at the lowest economic conditions?

Initiative 1033 is arguably the most egregious yet of Eyman’s attempts to feather his nest at the expense of this state’s economic well-being. Passing I-1033 would be one giant stride along the road to California’s economic calamity.

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