Spokane Journal of Business

Proposition 2 makes sense for city

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On Feb. 12, Spokane voters have the opportunity to adopt another reasonable taxpayer protection policy. It's a requirement they've already approved five times at the state level.

Proposition 2 is simple. It would require bipartisanship. It would require consensus. And it would require a greater conversation about the financial burden lawmakers are placing on you.

With approval, Spokane's City Council would need a majority plus one vote—in other words, a two-thirds approval—to increase taxes. In the alternative, voters could be asked to approve a tax hike with a simple majority.

Why is this an important policy change?

In an era of budget challenges and extreme partisanship, Proposition 2 gives voters the opportunity to send a clear message: Don't make increasing the financial burden on citizens your first priority, and if you do increase taxes, be sure there is broad agreement first.

We've seen this in action in the past. In 2004, Spokane city leaders undertook a broad and intense discussion with voters about the need to increase taxes to fix the city's streets. Voters, in exchange for the honest conversation and detailed plan, hiked their own taxes by an average of $150 per year.

In 2012, Spokane's City Council voted 6-1 to increase the city's hotel-motel tax to fund expansion of the Spokane Arena and Spokane Convention Center. Again, broad agreement was reached, and the tax was approved.

Supermajority requirements are neither undemocratic nor unusual. In fact, they are very much a part of democracy. They can be found throughout the governing documents of our city, the state's constitution, and the federal constitution.

In Spokane, for instance, it takes a supermajority to override a mayor's veto. In the state constitution, it takes a supermajority for legislators to access money in the budget stabilization account.

Adopting a higher threshold for tax increases is a reasonable policy preference the people of our city and state have supported five times before.

In 2012, almost 70 percent of voters in Spokane approved the state supermajority requirement for tax increases. The decision was nearly unanimous among precincts in Spokane County, and almost every state newspaper endorsed the higher threshold for taxation.

The Tri-City Herald said, "The approach has been successful in keeping the growth of government in check." The Walla Walla Union Bulletin proclaimed, "It has forced lawmakers to fully debate the merits and compromise."

To bypass the state requirement, some lawmakers in Olympia are looking at passing more costs onto local governments, with the hope those city and county governments that don't have a supermajority requirement will just increase taxes to pay for it. That likely explains why voters in Pierce County passed a similar, local supermajority requirement last fall.

Proposition 2 is a reasonable measure that actually doesn't go as far as what is required in other states. All tax increases in Michigan and Colorado, for example, must be approved by voters.

Approval of Proposition 2 would be a common-sense policy decision by voters, who will be clearly framing the city's future budget challenges. It also will send a message to lawmakers—find efficiencies and consensus before increasing the financial burden on our citizens.

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