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Voters endorsed schools – not taxes

Post by Patrick O'Callahan on Feb. 11, 2010 at 7:47 pm with No Comments »
February 11, 2010 5:26 pm

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Conventional wisdom had it that school levies faced iffy prospects Tuesday in this climate of economic trouble. Conventional wisdom was wrong.

Unemployment may be high and financial confidence low, but voters throughout the South Sound renewed levies for their school districts by immense margins. In Tacoma, the spread was 65-to-35 percent. In Puyallup it was 70-to-30 percent. In University Place, 67-to-33 percent. In the Bethel School District, 59-to-41 percent.

Those aren’t landslides; they are tsunamis.

Icing on the cake: Tacoma’s $140 million construction-and-technology levy passed 59-41 percent. As of Thursday, the Clover Park School District’s $92 million school-construction bond measure enjoyed 62 percent approval rate. Tacoma and Lakewood voters were looking past the immediate distress and buying new schools for the future.

This swell of public support shows how highly the region’s citizens value public education in general and their own schools in particular. What it doesn’t show is that Washingtonians are ready to add to the burden they’re already bearing.

Some legislators might be tempted to conclude that the levy successes reflect a general receptiveness toward broad new state taxes. A close look at the actual levy campaigns points in the opposite direction.

In this region, school supporters stressed the idea that the levies wouldn’t raise taxes ­– that the measures would simply renew taxing authority previously approved by the voters. “Prop 1 won’t increase your taxes,” the refrain went.

Obviously, it was a successful pitch. But it doesn’t translate into, “Hey, throw some more taxes our way. We can’t get enough of them.”

There’s also the fact that citizens make a clear distinction between local taxes they impose on themselves and statewide taxes imposed on them from Olympia. They tend to be more willing to buy schools and emergency services close to home, less willing to let distant lawmakers spend more of their money on who knows what.

Whatever else Tuesday’s election results mean, they don’t suggest that the public wants to see the Legislature squeeze more blood out of the distressed private sector – and possibly hurt the recovery in the bargain.

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