Opinion

Viewpoint

"Property tax action neededLike many in this community, I was frustrated by state government’s handling of the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax. The people’s discontent over the MVET festered for a long time, waiting for the governor and legislature to take action.When nothing happened in Olympia, the people waited patiently for redress. Time passed, tension mounted, and still no change came of it. The people asked again, only to be ignored and rebuffed. The result was a major tax revolt culminating in the passage of I-695.My goal here is not to debate the merits of I-695. Rather, I want to focus on the factors that led to its presence on the ballot and its passage at the polls. I also want to touch on what citizens and elected officials alike should take away from this experience. The legislative process clearly faltered, and we must learn from our mistakes or be doomed to repeat them.Despite advance warning from the people of this state (including the gathering of 500,000 signatures), no one in state government made a definitive push for a special session to remedy the MVET situation. The public’s cries fell largely on deaf ears. Without addressing potential alternatives or their respective merits, I would have preferred a change of the MVET through the legislative process rather than the initiative process because I prefer -- and the citizens deserve -- laws made with a high degree of certainty as to what the ramifications of implementation will be. Who will this affect? How much will it cost? How will the state implement this new law? The signature-gatherers in front of Target or Safeway will not likely take the time to fully explain the impact of whatever initiative petition they want you to sign.Any law, whether made through the legislative referendum or initiative process, always includes the specter of unintended consequences. Budget numbers may change, other agencies or local governments may be affected and the intended outcome may not occur. However, I strongly believe that the legislative process is the method which best reduces the potential for unintended consequences. Expert testimony before the committees coupled with research and evaluation by committee and legislative staffs allow careful examination of a law’s ramifications and lower the potential for unintended consequences.Initiative 695 was a rallying mechanism for people fed up with the legislative status quo. All lawmakers, including myself, must take this lesson to heart. The people want to see fundamental changes in the way government does business, and they want it now.As a citizen, I understand where this anger is coming from. Who hasn’t been frustrated with government for missing something as obviously outrageous as the MVET tax? Yet, as an elected official, I also know that it takes time to bring about change. The old saw about turning the ocean liner on a dime comes to mind. There are presently two property tax reform initiatives to the legislature on file with the Secretary of State’s office, with echoes of California’s Proposition 13. As a result, the citizens now face another tax reform law without fully examining the scope and impact of the ramifications of its passage.It is the duty of the legislature and governor to work together and not fool ourselves again. Together, we must develop and implement a prudent and reasonable property tax reform plan for this session.There is absolutely no doubt that property tax reform is needed. I would prefer to see that reform enacted through the legislative process rather than through the initiative process. The governor and the legislature owe it to the citizens to put forward and pass a property tax reform plan with as high a degree of certainty as possible.If the governor and the legislature sit on their hands, or a stalemate evolves due to partisan posturing for the upcoming fall elections, then we elected officials will have failed again. Only by taking the time to gather the facts and crafting well-balanced tax reform laws can we expect to make the kind of change that will not only make good policy, but will also make good sense.Langley resident Kelly Barlean represents the 10th Legislative District in Olympia."

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