Tim Eyman is not my hero.
Eyman is, of course, the consummate citizen-activist who in recent years has made it his mission to dismantle our state’s taxation system. Proponents are wildly ecstatic about his ideas, which have included legalizing slot machines, down sizing the King County Council, cutting taxes that provide general public funding, and reducing property taxes by 25%.
This time Eyman’s initiative is a reboot: I-1185 would require a 2/3 majority for future tax increases. This initiative mirrors past attempts, such as I-1053 (2010) and I-960 (2007). While these measures passed, both were relegated to the recycle heap by the state legislature.
Eyman’s mantra might as well be, “Why not pay lower taxes?” He has displayed a talent for tapping into voters’ distrust for the politics that pervade budgetary issues. To give him his due, Eyman has brought up valid concerns, including voters’ distrust of budgetary politics. He has empowered a voting base that seeks to change the status quo. There would be much to like in this story if it stopped there.
But it doesn’t. The obvious reality is that taxes are the necessary evil which funds the engines of our society: schools, transportation, emergency health care and public safety. Many of Eyman’s initiatives, including I-1185, are a blatant attempt to remove government funding from the programs that separate a civilized society from a state of anarchy.
I have been an unwilling witness to the trickle down effects of Eyman’s initiative machine. Twice a year my former police chief would update the rank and file on the current status of our agency. The city’s tax base was always a hot topic, because it meant resources like cars, tools, and more people to handle the growing challenges of law enforcement. Extra funds propelled projects that targeted specific crimes in town.
It was in this context that I first heard Tim Eyman’s name. He was mentioned as the author of an initiative which was expected to decimate our agency’s budget. The sobering news meant we could not afford X equipment, would disband Y unit, and would lose Z number of police positions. It was not pretty.
Sure, our agency could (and did) get by with less, but it would be a lie to say that in doing so public safety was undiminished. Regardless of slogans to the contrary, having less means doing less. In a police agency it usually means investigations are re-prioritized (i.e. delayed) and patrol response times are longer.
Slicing the budget of other publicly funded entities would have similar results. The point is that finding a viable solution to revenue problems should not include voter-proof roadblocks. I-1185 is management by cliche: “Throw the baby out with the bath water.”
Let us also recognize that passing I-1185 would place all taxation decisions in the hands of 1/3 of the voting public. That is not a democratic plan.
Tim Eyman has cooked up some very creative ideas over the years. He has enjoyed a measure of success and started an important dialogue, and we should continue that conversation. The problem is that by playing to our weakness as tight-fisted taxpayers, he is taking it too far. I-1185 will impact us and our infrastructure in ways we will not like.
Penny wise and pound foolish is a bad way to vote.