Eyman statistics about “obscene” taxes are misleading, meaningless

Rethinking and Reframing

Since the beginning of his efforts to put I-864 and I-892 on the 2004 ballot, Tim Eyman has consistently complained about the rise in property taxes over the past several decades. His major, overriding complaint is that property taxes have increased from $1 billion in 1980 to $6.25 billion in 2003. But does this figure accurately represent the change in the property tax burden?

The answer is no. Information from the Department of Revenue does show an increase in the amount of revenue collected from property taxes each year. But you can’t look at the amount of money the state collects and use that as an appropriate figure.

Any accurate representation of the property tax burden should take into account the following factors:

  • Inflation
  • Population growth (and, since 1980, Washington’s population has increased 32.2%)
  • Expansion of the tax base (i.e., more properties to tax)
  • Loss or gain of federal funding
  • Shifting of revenue from one tax source to another

Tim’s complaint that the property tax growth is “obscene” is unjustifiable. Revenue collection figures will always continue to grow because of inflation. And because the population continues to grow, and because more properties are developed, Washington will require more public services. More public services requires an increase in revenue.

There is no way to prevent this increase unless the level of public services currently provided by the state and local governments were to drastically regress. This would lead to a loss of jobs as firemen, librarians, police officers, and other government employees would be laid off in large numbers.

The following chart, furnished by the Department of Revenue, provides a better look at tax growth. Compare it side by side to the chart Tim Eyman uses in his argument that the property tax burden is “obscene”.
Several conclusions can be made from the chart to the left. The first is that the tax burden has dramatically decreased. Part of this is because government has had to make do with less, even as population has grown and demands on the state’s infrastructure have increased.

The second is that using 1980 as a starting date is misleading. If you start one year earlier, in 1979, it’s obvious that the tax burden has clearly and dramatically decreased. In fact, property taxes as a percentage of assessed value have clearly declined.

According to the Washington State Tax Structure Committee and every other accountable source, the economic figure that most closely tracks growth in demand for public services is growth in personal income. Personal income is also the only number which permits a true measure of tax burden.

This second chart, also provided by the Department of Revenue, shows that thirty one other states have higher tax burdens than Washington:

So Tim’s claim that tax growth is “obscene” is simply not true. And compared to other states, Washington’s tax burden is fairly low. Because Tim’s method of measurement doesn’t produce meaningful information, his results are completely misleading and out of context.

Those who take Tim’s statistics for granted don’t understand that he’s playing with the numbers and the figures, using irrelevant data and presenting misleading graphs to paint a distorted picture of Washington State’s tax burden. He’s proved one thing- even when it comes down to math, you can’t trust Tim Eyman.

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