Disqus

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Thoughts on Funding

Joni Balter of the Times had a column about how we fund services in our city. Here's how she puts it:

"It is an increasing tradition in our region to offer government a la carte."

And before I go any further, I'm not against taxes. Compared to other countries (and even other states), we aren't taxed that much. But we do have a struggling economy and many people who are stretched to their limit (read: seniors and low-income folks).

She goes on to talk about how many levies/bonds may come before voters in all of 2010. We just had our first one with the school levies. Next up is likely to be a seawall levy.

"To that end, the Seattle City Council recently asked McGinn to review all the voter "asks" on the horizon to have a more holistic sense of what is coming up. Councilmember Tom Rasmussen says the council is not on board for the mayor's requested May election for the sea wall and may pursue other funding options, including use of the city's credit card to reduce the hit on taxpayers."

She also points out that that 2011 will have the renewal for the Families and Education levy (that funds many programs important to SPS) and maybe a levy to extend light rail to the west.

It's interesting because some of the comments after her column are pretty tough. There's a lot of "We just passed the school levies overwhelmingly. What makes you think we won't pass all the others?" I think her point is to ask if it could become possible for Seattle voters, at some point, to find "ballot fatigue and tax overload".

So I bring this up because in the middle of the column is this:

"That is until the Mariners stadium tax expires in early 2012.

Word to the wise: That tax will never come off the bill even after stadium bonds are paid because everybody and their second cousin once removed is eager to reroute the tax to their cause. Think Husky Stadium, KeyArena, the arts and others."

This is a really good point because it does seem unfair to ask for a tax for a finite item (the stadium) and then extend it to something else because people are already used to paying it. "It's not a new tax, it's a renewal!" I'm not even sure how that would work. Does the Legislature have the power to just shift the money elsewhere or do we vote on it again?

However, in Ms. Balter's list of places where the money could go, she left off education. That's one revenue stream that is awfully tempting. I'm not even sure how much money it is but if we are talking about funding education without always having an Operations levy, it might work.

Thoughts?

11 comments:

Michael said...

"Does the Legislature have the power to just shift the money elsewhere or do we vote on it again?"

I depends on the enabling legislation. If it says that the tax shall end when the bonds are paid off, then it ends unless voters re-approve it ("renew" it). If the legislation just says that the money will be used to pay off bonds, without any language such as "shall end" (or words to that effect), then the legislature could possibly re-route the funds by amending the legislation.

I'm no attorney, so I could be wrong on the technicalities, but I think I've seen efforts at this before.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I think that's why Joni mentioned it in the first place. I think it's such a possibility that there could be a fight over who it would renew for.

wseadawg said...

The best thing about Joni's columns is how well they absorb cat pee. Her intellectual laziness is second only to Connelly's. All the good writers seem to be dead or elsewhere. We'd be better informed if we just ran Emmett Watson's old columns from decades ago. Same old, same old.

spock said...

Washington State has either very high or very low state and local taxes, depending on your income.

For the bottom 20% of households, WA has by far the highest taxes of any state.

However for the top 1%, taxes are very low... only 6 states have lower.
Source: http://horsesass.org/?p=23212

Stu said...

Washington State has either very high or very low state and local taxes, depending on your income.

The problem with so many of these taxes, and the school levies, is that they're all homeowner taxes. Whereas most states have income taxes -- I'm not advocating here, just stating this -- which tax everyone who works at a similar rate, taxes in this state are piled on the homeowner and that's starting to get expensive. (Another preemptive comment here: yes, renters get taxed too but the amount is averaged out over all the apartments in a building. Homeowners are getting reamed at a time when sales prices are down but property values, as established by the same government who raises money based on those values, remain high.)

Yes, the percentage of taxes in our state can be "very high or very low," as you stated, but it has nothing to do with income nor with the ability to pay. Many of us are working hard to make ends meet and the extra few hundered dollars here and there really makes a difference.

So you have a state that doesn't evenly distribute the responsibility of taxes, underfunds education, starts charging for Kindergarten . . . it's nickel and diming people to death.

And how does the state respond to the latest court loss about education funding? They approve removing the school levying restrictions so we can tax ourselves some more. (See link: Wash. House lets schools raise more through levies

These are just some of the reasons why I fight this school administration so hard . . . they have no understanding of the toll their decisions are taking on the public. Spending millions on new programs while existing ones suffer, opening new buildings for millions of dollars right after closing others, INCREASING administrative costs while cutting teachers and counselors and buses, and making uninformed decisions that lead to expensive law suits. (At least, I hope someone with standing sues over the STEM thing.)

Public education costs a lot of money and affects hundreds of thousands of people. That's cause to be MORE careful with spending and that's something this district doesn't see.

stu

Isabel D'Ambrosia said...

I like the fact that Balter makes government seem "a la carte". We need more a la carte taxes because then people could see exactly what the money is being spent on.

What drives me crazy is the Seattle Times constantly harping that the Legislature shouldn't raise taxes to cover the shortfall caused by the economic crisis. Geez -- for once talk about what is being cut if taxes aren't raised!

One good thing about school levies is that people can tell exactly what the tax pays for.

We could use a LOT more linking of taxes to SPECIFIC programs. Or we'll end up like California -- where people want WAY more government than they are willing to pay for, tax cuts are rampant, services are gutted, and everyone blames the "politicians". Yikes!

ArchStanton said...

wseadawg said: The best thing about Joni's columns is how well they absorb cat pee. Her intellectual laziness is second only to Connelly's. All the good writers seem to be dead or elsewhere. We'd be better informed if we just ran Emmett Watson's old columns from decades ago. Same old, same old.

That's the funniest thing I've read in days. Bring back Lesser Seattle! Can we start by demolishing the 520 bridge and not replacing it?

Melissa Westbrook said...

"One good thing about school levies is that people can tell exactly what the tax pays for."

Exactly? Tell me how you do that because I've been trying for years to get "exact" information and I can't.

Michael said...

"...where people want WAY more government than they are willing to pay for, tax cuts are rampant, services are gutted, and everyone blames the "politicians".

Tax cuts are rampant? Everyone blames the politicians? California passed a slew of new taxes and tax increases. And if you can't blame the politicians who do you blame?? All the blame does not lay with the voters - although they vote the bums in, those bums are the ones that cast the votes for disastrous budgets.

If you think more taxes should be paid, start by donating more of your disposable income to the government. Yes, it sound silly - but don't presume that higher taxes are the answer. They are not.

wseadawg said...

Transparency, Equal Time and the Fairness Doctrine were the answer. I emphasize WERE. We were too preoccupied when these died quiet, stealthy deaths, and now we reap the chaos resulting from their demise.

The people can be trusted to make good decisions, but only when they have the facts. With corporate media controlling information, and greed continuing to be seen as virtuous (look no further than Wall Street bailouts) the scenes in Olympia will repeat for years to come.

How about we close a few more schools! That ought to save us some money, eh?

Patrick said...

Michael, California has been ruined by tax cuts. I'm not talking about the past year, I'm talking about the last 35 years of service cuts and underinvestment. Every time there's a recession, services get slashed, then when the recession ends and there's a little more money coming in, they cut taxes again! California's educational system has been in a permanent state of crisis since 1977. Most of those tax cuts are passed by initiative, because legislators have to study both sides of an issue instead of just voting their pocketbook.