CITY BALLOT: City Asks If They Should Have 5/7 Vote For Tax Increases

By Paige Browning

One of three propositions on the city ballot would require a supermajority of city council to raise taxes.  Supporters say it protects citizens’ wallets; but in the eyes of opponents it’s superfluous.

Proposition two amends the city charter to require that any new “councilmanic” tax must have a majority plus one vote of the city council, meaning a 71% majority.  It’s similar to the state law passed five times by voters, most recently in November.

City Council member Nancy McLaughlin, known for her no new-taxes stance, introduced proposition two to the council.  She says the state is swiping away state-shared revenues from the city of Spokane, like the liquor taxes lost when liquor sales went private.

McLaughlin: “They’ll start giving more and more taxing authorities down to the local levels, basically saying you go get your own money here.  So that’s one reason for me to say you know what let’s not do that.  State you need to deal… and don’t start throwing those things down at the local level and making us have to be the bad guys basically and have to tax our citizens.”

Three other tax-wary city council members wrote the supporting argument for the proposal in the voters’ pamphlet.  Steve Salvatori says he’s not “no new-taxes”, but would take it further and require a seven-out-of-seven vote if he could.

Salvatori:  “Just because it would require a supermajority wouldn’t mean I wouldn’t support a tax increase if one came, if I thought we needed it.  But I do think this is a good precaution to make sure that we don’t just automatically raise people’s taxes, just because we could.  So I’m strongly in favor of prop two.”

McLaughlin introduced the supermajority idea to the council, but admits a Washington Policy Center leader first put the bug in her ear.  The group is a non-partisan think tank, but has spent money only on Republican state campaigns since 2006, according to the public disclosure commission.

McLaughlin:  “I wish I could say that I thought of this all but myself, but no the thought was planted in my mind.  Then I, I really thought about it and said I think this is a great policy.”
A similar local measure has passed in Pierce County, and another is being considered in Yakima County.

Those who disagree with the proposition say it is undemocratic.  Council President Ben Stuckart, and Jack Geraghty who was Spokane’s Mayor through the mid-1990s, both helped write the opposing statement in the voter’s pamphlet.  Stuckart says there are multiple reasons why it’s a bad idea.

Stuckart:  “The first is it’s very unclear.  The only example in the last 20 years where I could find a tax was increased by a simple majority was the… $20 tax on your car tabs, but this law does not apply to that tax.  But business registration fees will be restricted by a supermajority if this passes.  So to me the law is very ambiguous and unclear.”

He says when an issue is so big that the city charter has to be changed, it should be crystal clear.  Councilman Jon Snyder says it actually could leave the city open to a lawsuit regarding annual inflation on business fees.

Another force against proposition two is the Spokane Firefighters’ Union, whose members have taken to the streets waving signs against the measure. 

The city does already have some supermajority requirements.  5/7 council members must vote yes for emergency budget ordinances, to override a mayor’s veto, and six must vote affirmative to recall a council member or the mayor.

Copyright 2013 Spokane Public Radio
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