Island delegates to support tax cap in special session

Rolfes, Appleton, Rockefeller say the will of the voters is clear on property tax limitation.

State lawmakers will be called into special session Thursday to decide whether to reinstate the property tax revenue cap enacted by Initiative 747, and Bainbridge’s delegation is on board with returning the cap to law.

The 23rd Legislative District’s Sen. Phil Rockefeller and Representatives Sherry Appleton and Christine Rolfes all said they would respect voters’ original decision by supporting the initiative’s 1 percent cap, which was torched by the State Supreme Court earlier this month.

“It is the will of the people,” Appleton said.

I-747, pushed by career initiative writer Tim Eyman, was passed by a large majority in Kitsap County and across the state in 2001, but was not popular among voters on Bainbridge.

On Nov. 8 the state Supreme Court declared the initiative invalid, ruling that voters were confused about the severity of the cap they were approving.

Gov. Christine Gregoire responded by placing a moratorium on property tax hikes to keep local governments from returning to the previously allowed 6 percent annual growth, and called for a special legislative session.

Rolfes, who served on the Bainbridge Island City Council when the initiative was first passed, co-sponsored legislation in January that would reinstate I-747’s provisions should the court rule it invalid.Rolfes said the Legislature should act fast to reaffirm the policy, which was overturned on a technicality.

“It was struck down by the courts for a very narrow technical reason rather than a broader legal reason,” she said.

Rolfes declined to say whether she had supported I-747 in 2001, but said she could see both sides of the coin.

“I have been very clear, even when I sat on the City Council, that though it’s very hard for a city to work under the cap, it’s an important limitation to set,” she said.

Rolfes said that the City of Bainbridge Island anticipated I-747’s passage in 2001 and had budgeted accordingly.

Under the initiative, agencies can temporarily lift the 1 percent lid if approved by voters, and Rolfes said Bainbridge should turn to the public if it needs funds.

“The government is well situated to communicate its needs, and it’s an informed public,” she said.

Several lid lifts have been passed on Bainbridge Island since I-747 was enacted, including a temporary 10 percent revenue increase for the fire department approved in 2005 after a previous levy failed.

Elsewhere, the Kitsap Regional Library has been forced to cut back its hours after voters shot down a lid lift attempt this spring.

Rockefeller, also a Bainbridge resident, said he will vote to reinstate the cap because it’s necessary to alleviate the “stiff burden” on taxpayers and because it is overwhelmingly popular.

“This is one area where they have made their opinions very clear,” he said.

Rockefeller said he was concerned that the revenue cap had put some local governments in a “straightjacket,” and said he hopes the Legislature can find ways to help local governments get funding without relying heavily on property taxes.

As far as far-reaching initiatives go, Rockefeller isn’t a fan.

“Personally, I don’t like the idea of making large policy decisions through initiatives because you don’t get the push and pull and the debate,” he said. “I don’t support this ‘shotgun approach.’”

Appleton, of Poulsbo, said that there may have been some confusion about the initiative, but for the most part voters knew what they were getting.

“I think the average voter is pretty smart when it comes to their pocketbook,” she said.

Appleton said she isn’t happy with the special session as a venue for reinstating the cap, because it won’t allow the in-depth debate the issue needs.

She would have preferred hearings during the regular legislative session.

“I wanted us to be more cautious about how we did it,” she said.

Since its inception, Appleton said she has not supported I-747’s cap as a policy because it fails to account for growth and inflation.

But voters overwhelmingly chose the property tax cap over government services, she said.

“On a personal level, I’m more of a realist,” she said. “I know you don’t get something for nothing.”

Heading into tomorrow’s special session, Rolfes said she liked the odds of the cap being re-approved.

“I’ll bet you a dollar,” she joked. “I am fairly confident. When state leadership and legislators are asking for a special session, it means that we will probably reinstate something.”

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