Thursday, December 01, 2005

Beat back Eyman, reform municipal funding

Why Tim Eyman has been able to run roughshod over Washington politics was that people have an inherent distrust in government. They don't see where there money goes, they don't trust that its being spent well. Eyman's I-900, he would say, would help reform government and give people more reason to trust that they taxes their contributing to the state coffers.

I-900, of course, doesn't actually help local governments who since the first Eyman initiative and I-601 (which predated Eyman), have seen decreased funding and decreased services.

The City of Tacoma is looking to lead the charge in changing how local governments are funded:

In a special budget meeting last night, the Tacoma city council agreed to explore a singular remedy for its projected revenue shortfalls. The idea... would connect key city services to a new tax at levels explicitly determined by the voters...

The scheme is basically a monthly city property tax dedicated to police, fire and library services -- the core of city government. Current B&O, utility and other taxes would be eliminated -- including the city's portion of the existing property tax. In Anderson's initial outline, the tax would extend to all property holders other than houses of worship, which would include private schools and universities, nonprofit hospitals, charities, and others. A base level would be set by a city-wide vote, and any subsequent increase would also go to a referendum.

The plan, though, needs more than just inovation on the local level. The legislature needs to clear a path in state law to allow Tacoma to overhaul their system. Once the legislature acts, and they should, it woud allow other local governments to follow suit.

While I'm not totally wild about not exempting anyone except for "places of worship" under the plan, it does do one very important thing: create transparency. From the News Tribune:

Anderson’s rationale for the fee concept – which he acknowledges is radical – is intriguing.

It would, for the first time, tell citizens exactly what public safety and libraries are costing them, he contends. Under the existing system of taxation, most citizens have very little idea where their property taxes go, since the dollars are divvied up among the state, city, school district and county government, plus special taxing districts like the Metropolitan Park District of Tacoma.

City taxpayers thus have little basis for judging whether they’re getting a reasonable value for their money. A specific amount for a specific service – such as police protection – would bring that into focus, allowing citizens to make informed judgments about how their monthly assessments are being spent.

Eyman and other anti-tax zealots succeed because citizens don't trust government. More transparency in government is a good thing, creating more trust in government and creating a better case for better, more active, local government.

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