The Washington State Supreme Court has once again demonstrated its elitist contempt for the voters of this state by insulting our intelligence and overturning Tim Eyman’s I-747. Its rationale was that we voters are too stupid to understand what we passed by a landslide back in 2001 — in spite of the fact it more than likely kept a much stronger tax revolt at bay as property values soared in recent years.
That certainly created a serious election-year dilemma for our esteemed Governor, Christine Gregoire — who has never seen a tax she didn’t support — and said previously she’d like to increase the one percent limit imposed by we voters.
The ink wasn’t even dry on the Supreme Court ruling before her 2008 Republican opponent, former State Senator Dino Rossi, immediately called upon the governor to convene a special one-day session of the legislature to reinstate the one percent lid — much the way former Governor Gary Locke did in 2000, instituting $30 car tabs after the court handed down its decision invalidating I-695. But Gregoire stonewalled Rossi’s call for almost three weeks, leaving taxpayers at risk for big local increases. “The incumbent is not leading, she is reacting — and slowly,” Rossi chided.
Right after the Supreme Court ruling, Gregoire minimized the situation, saying she would work with lawmakers to re-impose a limit, without giving a specific number, and creating the impression she was open to something more than one, but less than six percent.
As late as June of last year, Gregoire pushed a compromise increase, stating six percent begins taxing people out of their homes (conveniently neglecting to mention it also doubles the amount of taxation every 12 years), but insisting that in spite of continually escalating property values, one percent forces cutbacks on local services.
The political reality is any compromise on the percentage is a no-win for Gregoire, who barely beat Rossi in 2004 — and as we all know, under highly questionable circumstances. If Gregoire and the Democrats passed even a two percent cap they’ll be crucified in the court of public opinion for doubling property taxes.
The Friday after Election Day, Rossi and the Republicans were spinning themselves as champions of the taxpayers. Tim Eyman, fresh from his I-960 victory, was bombastically crowing, “People are in no mood to compromise. They’re ready to rip politicians’ lungs out.” So Gregoire issued a four-sentence e-mail saying — for the very first time — she supported a one percent cap.
“The voters approved Initiative 747, it has been in place for five years and I think we need to leave it in place,” she said. She reportedly later told the AP — with a straight face — that’s been her position for the past year. Perhaps she should have gone public much sooner, because that’s the very first time anyone ever heard her say that.
What provoked Gregoire into action, was the fact the old six percent law went back into effect. Numerous local taxing districts had “banked” unused taxing authority, and several King County taxing districts quickly moved to use it, ignoring Gregoire’s lame request not to.
Kitsap County Commissioner Chair Josh Brown also floated a trial balloon hinting Kitsap might look at increasing property taxes as well, but cooler, more experienced heads, prevailed.
In spite of the myriad of special interest Democratic constituencies pressuring the governor for an increase while the door was open, Gregoire was between the proverbial rock and a hard place. While Democrats detested Rossi and Eyman dictating Olympia’s agenda and its timing, they couldn’t risk their supermajorities in both houses next fall either. Openly challenging the clear will of the voters was simply an unacceptable risk.
Crediting voters with a gullibility factor between 7 and 8 on a scale of 10, Democrats cranked up their spin machine to put the best PR face on the situation. The KPBJ received identically-worded press releases from every Democratic House member in the 23rd, 26th and 35th Districts telling us how they were listening to the voters and supported Gregoire’s efforts. Only the names were changed. It deserves to be noted that 26th District Senator Derek Kilmer (D-Gig Harbor) came out for restoring the one percent cap almost as soon as the Supreme Court decision was announced.
Republicans running for election in 2008 will leverage the very real fear of even higher taxes. If Gregoire does prevail next November — which polling indicates is far from certain right now — in spite of re-imposing the cap, there’s nothing except an unlikely Gregoire veto preventing a Democratic-controlled 2009 legislature from increasing it.
But just once, wouldn’t you love to see a political leader step up and do what’s right — without political considerations — for NO other reason than because it IS the right thing to do? In my view, that’s what true leadership is all about.