Tri-City teachers decry Eyman anti-tax initiative

By Michelle Dupler, Herald staff writerOctober 2, 2009 

Tri-City teachers on Thursday took a stand against an initiative that supporters claim would offer property tax relief, but that critics say will cripple government services.

Initiative 1033 was filed in January by Tim Eyman and aims to limit growth of government general fund revenues to population growth, plus inflation, if it passes on Nov. 3.

Teri Staudinger, a Kennewick fourth-grade teacher, said at a news conference Thursday that she fears the initiative would exacerbate cuts made to the state's K-12 education system this year, which have resulted in overcrowded classrooms at Hawthorne Elementary School where she teaches.

"If we lose more funding, we will have more children in class," Staudinger said.

If the initiative passes, applicable general fund revenues starting in 2010 would be limited to the amount collected in 2009 adjusted for inflation and population growth, absent voter approval of higher collections.

The limit would apply to revenues such as sales and property tax, fees and charges for services, but not to grant money, donations, interfund transfers and investment interest.

Excess revenue collected above the limit would be used to reduce the next year's property tax levy.

Eyman has said the purpose is to enforce fiscal responsibility and stop the cycle of overspending followed by cuts the state has seen in recent years, culminating in a forecast $9 billion deficit when lawmakers had to write the 2009-11 budget.

He said the initiative represents a return to the ideals of voter-approved Initiative 601, which was approved in 1993 and similarly capped revenue growth at population growth plus inflation.

"We had 601 for years," Eyman said. "It did work."

Over time, the Legislature chipped away at I-601, prompting Eyman to file I-1033.

Critics say the initiative is too restrictive and will stop state government from restoring money to programs cut from the 2009-11 budget once the economy improves, and that will further hurt people already hit by the recession as they lose access to services such as health care and education.

Jeff Chapman, research director for the Washington Budget and Policy Institute, said a better approach to stabilizing the state budget is to have a robust rainy day fund in place for when the economy dips into recession, as it will from time to time.

"I agree, let's get off the fiscal rollercoaster, but let's be real about the cause," Chapman said. "The answer to that isn't 1033."

-- On the net: Eyman's "Voters Want More Choices" website, www.permanent-offense.org; opponents' coalition, www.voteno1033.com

-- Michelle Dupler: 582-1543; mdupler@tricityherald.com

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