Tag Archives: Governor Gregoire

Initiative 747 Fails to Address Tax Fairness

The strange thing about Governor Gregoire’s rush to re-enact I-747 by calling the Washington State Legislature into Special Session this Thursday is that according to figures from the Washington State Department of Revenue, Washington State’s Property Taxes are below the national average.

In 2004 Washington State ranked 28th in property taxes paid at $31.68 per $1000 of personal income. The national average was $34.75.

In 2005, according to a press release by the Dept of Revenue,”Washington also fell below national averages in property taxes. Property taxes dropped by $1.08 to $30.60 per $1,000 of personal income in Fiscal Year 2005, although Washington’s ranking among the states remained at 28th, the same as in Fiscal Year 2004. Washington ranked 24th in property taxes per capita at $1,055 in Fiscal Year 2005, down from 22nd in the 2004 rankings.”

These figures are surprising and contradict statements by Tim Eyman that would have you believing that we were drowning in taxes. Eyman talks about the need “to protect taxpayers from our obscene and unsustainable property tax burden“. To Tim of course, every tax is obscene and a burden.

The Washington State Department of Revenue’s press release noted that “Washingtonians pay less state and local tax relative to their incomes than residents of 36 other states…”
They stated that, “Tax experts believe measuring taxes against income is the most meaningful comparison because it reflects both ability and willingness to pay taxes for desired governmental services. “

Even Governor Gregoire issued a press release at the time. “Washington ranked 37th nationally, paying an average of $105.91 in taxes for every $1,000 in personal income in Fiscal Year 2005, compared to a national average of $112.94. Washington ranked 29th in Fiscal Year 2004.”
These tax figures for Washington also need to be considered in relation to the fact that 43 of the states also have an income tax to raise revenue, which Washington State doesn’t.

The Governor and the Legislature need to keep these facts in focus before permanently enacting I-747 again.

The issue is one of tax fairness – the Washington State Budget & Policy Center notes that “lower income homeowners pay a much larger share of their income in property taxes (6%) than higher income homeowners (2.8%).

Across the board tax reductions like I-747 do not change the regressivity of Washington State’s tax system. The Legislature needs to looks at circuit breaker and homestead exemption legislation as ways to help reduce the burden on lower and middle income tax payers and should only enact I-747 with a provision that it sunset when legislators enact a fairer property tax system than the current one.

It’s time to look at some new ideas to address tax fairness and quit recycling old ones that fail the test of helping those that need help the most in paying property taxes.

And its time to accept that overall taxes in Washington state, while the most regressive in the country because of their over reliance on sales taxes and property taxes and no income tax, are actually pretty average compared to other states. If we can just relieve some of the burden placed on lower and middle income taxpayers, then we would have a much fairer system.

Governor Gregoire Panders to Ghosts of Christmas Past

It’s Christmas time and Governor Gregoire has become like Ebenezer Scrooge. She’s busy visiting and revisiting the ghosts of Christmas past. In a trance like daze she calls for a Special Session of the Washington State Legislature to re-enact a flawed policy wish of her right wing opponents – Initiative 747.

Never mind that the Legislature is scheduled to meet in January and the issue of property tax reform deserves more than a one day session to fairly resolve.

The ghosts of Tiny Tim and Dino the DINO flit about in her harried brain. “I must be re-elected. I must be re-elected. Remove these demons!” she screams. “Give them whatever they want, just leave me alone.

Quite the contrary, Christine, feeding these waifs of thin air only give them more substance and embolden them in their mischievous pranks to throw rotten eggs at state and local governments.

These ghosts are not here to help the citizens of this state that are looking for leadership to change the way we raise revenue in Washington state and end our de facto tax motto of “most regressive tax system in the nation.

These ghosts are not here to tell the public “when compared to the other 49 states, state and local property taxes in Washington appear to be about in the middle. For fiscal year 2004, Washington state ranked 28th in property taxes at $31.68 per $1000 of personal income, below the national average of $34.75. Calculated on a per capita basis, Washington ranked 18th at $3452 per person.

The above statement comes from “2007 Legislative Guide to Washington State Property Taxes ” and was prepared by the Senate Ways and Means Committee and the Legislative Evaluation and Accountability Program.

These ghosts will not tell the public that those most in need of property tax help are lower and middle class homeowners whose tax bill is going up due to assessed values on homes increasing faster than their income is going up.

What the ghosts will not tell you is that “In 1995, commercial value of property represented 41.5 percent of the statewide assessed value, and therefore paid 41.5% of the property tax. Since then, the relative share of commercial assessed value (and therefore taxes) has decreased by 8.7% points to 32.8%.” (from 2007 Legislative Guide.)

Re-enacting I-747 will do nothing to address this fact – that homeowners are picking up more and more of the property tax burden.

And I-747 will do nothing to address the fact the the Washington State Legislature also continues to give new tax breaks to businesses .This further reduces the available revenue base and shifts more and more tax tax burden onto individuals and families.

As the Economic Opportunity Institute noted in it’s report “Adding Up: New Tax Breaks in Washington 2004 -2006″ “In the three Legislative sessions from 2004 through 2006, the Washington Legislature passed at least 61 measures either granting new tax preferences or extending old ones. These new tax breaks will cost the state nearly half a billion dollars in the 2007 – 2009 biennium.”

Washington state needs to do tax reform, not keep failed tax policies in place. When compared with alternatives like Circuit Breaker Legislation as proposed by the Washington Budget & Policy Center or a Homestead Exemption as proposed by Tax Sanity.org, Initiative 747 pales.

The Legislature needs to look at property tax alternatives that will help those most feeling the increased pressure of residential property taxes – low and middle income individuals and families . Relief should be considered first on one’s principal residence which homestead exemptions do or by circuit breaker legislation which specifically helps lower income families and homeowners.

But Governor Gregoire and the Democratic controlled Legislature need to leave behind the ghosts of Christmas past and look to what the future can bring. This is why it was encouraging to read the comments of Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown and House Finance Committee Chair Ross Hunter in today’s Seattle PI. that the issue is not as simple as just passing a 1% limit.

Senate Majority Leader Brown notes that “The 1 percent limit has been in place for 5 years and there are still people out there who are struggling with property taxes.”

Governor Gregoire Stops Tilting at Windmills

Governor Gregoire has chosen to do the right thing although not everyone agreed. She has given the go-ahead to the Kittitas Valley Wind Power Project to build up to 65 wind turbines on ridges overlooking Route 97 northwest of Ellensburg in eastern Washington.

Back in July Governor Gregoire had asked the Washington Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council to re-evaluate the project based on concerns of local rural residents opposed to the Project. At the time we felt Governor Gregoire was tilting at windmills and needed to show leadership.

With an emphasis to build them as far away as possible from residences, the go ahead was significant in that it overrode local opposition to the project by the Kittitas Couty Board of Commissioners.

The Seattle Times quotes US Congressman Doc Hastings, a supporter of nuclear power from the TriCities area as saying, “I fear this precedent will embolden energy companies to bypass local leaders and go to the Governor to have projects imposed on communities.”

Funny thing, I seem to remember that this was exactly what the nuclear power industry tried to do in Washington State back in the 1970’s and 1980’s when they were promoting the WPPSS nuclear power plants at Satsop. I doubt you’ll find any similiar quotes from Hastings back then supporting local opposition to those projects.

Washington voters, by passing Initiative 394 back in 1981, said that they didn’t want to be indebted for bonds for large public energy projects without having a vote first. Washington voters last year actually voted to promote more renewable energy use in Washington State with the passage of Initiative 937.

The Kittitas Valley Wind Project represents a significant step in meeting the goals of Initiative 937 to achieve 15% of our energy from new renewable energy resources like wind by 2020. Governor Gregoire has made the right decision by listening to the voters and acting in the public interest.

Governor Gregoire Tilting at Windmills?

There’s a lot of wind in Kittitas County, Washington. Kittitas County is east of the Cascade Mountains. East of Ellensburg, 110 windmills already are operating as part of the Wind Horse Wind Farm. More are on the way.

Just like with building any large facility for energy, be it nuclear, coal, natural gas, or hydropower, there are changes and impacts to local communities. Weighting these local impacts against statewide significance is not always easy. But windmills aren’t nuclear power plants.

Still its not necessarily surprising that local Kittitas County Commissioners last year rejected another wind project near Ellensburg called the Kittitas Valley Wind Power Project.

However the local commissioners did not have the final say. Energy projects of statewide significance are approved on the state level by EFSEC – the Energy Facilities Site Evaluation Council. EFSEC on a 6 to 1 vote subsequently approved the project to build 65 windmills, overruling the local land use decision. In a nod to local concerns they only gave approval to about half the number originally proposed.

However now Governor Gregoire has asked EFSEC to re-evaluate whether a setback of 1600 feet from residences could be increased while still keeping the projects viable. Kate Riley, an editorial columnist for the Seattle Times, wrote a column entitled “Wind-farm storm shouldn’t blow governor off course” She’s right.

The Governor may be trying to cater to local concerns but we’re not talking about putting a coal plant or a nuclear plant in someone’s back yard. The Governor should go along with the EFSEC decision – the wind plants will create 125 new jobs in Kittitas County while not adding more CO2 to the atmosphere or producing nuclear waste that will be around for hundreds of thousands of years.

Last year Washington state votes passed the Clean Energy Initiative, Initiative 937, to promote renewable energy like wind power. The voters want to move forward and if Governor Gregoire wants to micromanage where every individual wind mill goes she is moving backward not forward.

As noted in an article in the Seattle PI by Helen Wise of Ellensburg and Sara Patton of the Northwest Energy Coalition

many were shocked when the governor failed to confirm state regulators’ endorsement of a well-sited wind energy project near Ellensburg. The state’s Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council had voted 6-1 for Horizon Wind Energy’s proposed Kittitas Valley Wind Power Project. The project had passed every environmental test and Horizon had halved the number of turbines to address some local residents’ concerns.
The governor wants EFSEC to investigate an issue already addressed during the five-year process — the economic feasibility of greatly increasing the distance between clean energy-generating turbines and outside properties. Horizon officials testified during the EFSEC and earlier county proceedings that doing so would kill the project.
The governor’s remand jeopardizes the many benefits the project would bring to Kittitas County residents, which only begin with direct payments to project landowners. A Kittitas Economic Development Group report says the wind farm would increase county property tax revenues more than $1 million annually — a 5 percent rise — and create 125 full- and part-time jobs.
The move is also a threat to state and regionwide interests. The Kittitas Valley project is the first proposed renewable-energy development to come before the governor since voters approved the state’s clean-energy Initiative 937.”

One has to wonder what’s up? Other wind projects are also in the pipeline to be considered. Governor Gregoire needs to be clear about the value of these projects in producing clean energy and not increasing global warming. She is sending the wrong message questioning a 6 to 1 decision by EFSEC that already reduced significantly the approved number of viable wind turbines.