Eyman initiatives have real consequences

Election PostmortemRethinking and Reframing

Years after their passage, the aftershocks of Tim Eyman’s dangerous initiatives are still being felt.

In an article published in the Everett Herald yesterday, the story of the struggling town of Gold Bar is told. Ever since the passage of Initiative 695 in 1999, Gold Bar has been in trouble. And now, the city is in danger of having to disincorporate.

The city’s troubles are indeed the result of Eyman initiatives, as the article notes:

The reason Gold Bar and numerous other cities around the state are struggling financially can be traced to the passage of the car tab initiative in 1999, which lowered licensing fees to a flat $30 rate.

Since then, Gold Bar has lost about $707,000 in revenue, according to the Association of Washington Cities. That loss is bigger than the city’s 2005 general fund of about $508,000. The city already has tightened its belt, cutting expenses on staff training, laying off staff and restructuring the police service contract with the county, which has saved the city about $194,000, said Hester Gilleland, the city’s clerk and treasurer.

The sad reality is that cities need money to operate. It costs us money to live in a society – something that Tim Eyman has never been intelligent enough to recognize. There comes a point when there is simply nothing left to cut and no belt-tightening left to do: the government simply stops functioning.

Public services, such as police and fire protection, swimming pools and libraries, roads, parks and public schools – aren’t free. Without money to operate those services, the government has no choice but to stop providing them. This seriously endangers the health of Washington state’s communities.

Gold Bar is unfortunately at the end of its string. But the city’s residents haven’t got anybody to blame except themselves.

Hawkins [mayor of Gold Bar] said she finds it ironic that even she voted for Initiative 695 – the major cause of the city’s financial headaches.

The town’s registered voters supported the initiative by a vote of 354-138. Courts eventually struck down the measure, but state lawmakers heeded the will of the people and adopted $30 license tab fees anyway.

In 2002, voters approved a second car-tab initiative, which eliminated a $15 license registration fee that Snohomish County and several other counties had been charging.

That money was earmarked for street repairs. As a result, the street fund in Gold Bar dropped from $17,200 in 2002 to nothing in 2004, Gilleland said.

“Even though these initiatives are appealing, they are giving a death warrant for local government,” Hawkins said.

Voters have been tricked into voting with their pocketbooks thanks to Tim Eyman and his sadistic rhetoric. Even mayors have been sold on the premise that they can have it all and not pay for it. By refusing to look at both sides of the equation, and refusing to acknowledge that tax cuts are equivalent to cuts in public services, Eyman and his cronies have distorted the truth and caused a lot of damage.

The Republican position that we must “live within our means” may sound appealing, but it is insane. Too many years of tax cuts are wreaking havoc on Washington State and its many local governments. If something isn’t done in the next few years, city halls across the state will be forced to close and some counties may even collapse into insolvency.

At a time when many rural citizens are angry about the lack of local control in their quest for “property rights”, they risk losing out and ceding more power to officials that are further away. Many of these people are the same folks that eagerly embraced Tim Eyman’s initiatives.

You get what you vote for, and they will pay dearly for their lack of vision and their self-centered thinking. If they’re upset about losing local control, then they should join the bandwagon in clamoring for the state Legislature to pass a budget that will plug the deficit with new revenues.

Cities and counties need money to operate. They’re out of funding. Without the state’s help or increased local revenue, there is no hope for them. And the state cannot possibly provide them funding when it faces its own budget shortfall.

It’s time for people who have been avoiding reality to acknowledge it. We cannot afford any more tax cuts. We need new revenues and real tax reform. We must fund public services or be forced to stop providing them.

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