WALLA WALLA -- A sweeping anti-tax measure on the November ballot was decried by Walla Walla County and College Place officials Monday.
County commissioners and the College Place City Council both approved resolutions opposing Initiative 1033. The Walla Walla City Council is scheduled to take comments on the issue when it meets Wednesday at 7 p.m.
"I think it will be devastating to our county," Commissioner Greg Tompkins said Monday.
In their resolution, county commissioners said the proposal will limit the county's ability to provide necessary services and hurt its ability to make long-term commitments to infrastructure, economic development and public safety. The initiative also fails to "allow consideration of the unanticipated costs of natural disasters, unfunded mandates and other emerging public priorities."
"The comment has been made that with passage of I-695 that nothing happened," Tompkins said about a 2000 initiative which eliminated motor vehicle excise taxes. "But those were better times and the state provided backfill money. Unfortunately, I-1033 comes at a time we don't have good revenues and there is no backfill."
If enacted, the state Office of Financial Management has projected that by 2015 Initiative 1033 would reduce general fund revenues to counties by about $694 million. During the same period revenues to cities would be reduced by about $2.1 billion. Those funds are now used for public safety, infrastructure and general government activities.
The initiative would reduce state general fund revenues for education, social, health and environmental services and general government activities by an estimated $5.9 billion by 2015, the OFM said.
The initiative sparked a roundtable discussion by College Place council members on Monday night. Steve Dickerson initially suggested taking a neutral stance, saying the measure "can be perceived as a good thing from a citizen's stance, but a bad from the city government side."
But city officials warned that if approved, the initiative would lead to drastic cuts in an already-lean budget.
"We have difficulty meeting our expenses right now," City Administrator Pat Reay said.
The one percent increase in property tax rates now allowed "doesn't keep pace with our costs of overhead and labor," and with I-1033 the situation would only get worse.
The initiative would also leave the city with no incentive to invest in projects to stimulate economic growth. "If we do anything to generate new revenues, we won't be able to keep them," said Robert Zielfelder, city finance director.
Zielfelder said he was also "very concerned" about the wording of the initiative. "For one thing, it's very vague, there's a lot of vague areas about what is not counted" such as new construction or grants.
As a result of that confusion, Zielfelder predicted "there's going to be a lot of lawsuits" to settle matters if the proposal is passed.
I-1033 in a nutshell
Initiative 1033 would limit revenue increases for state, city and county governments to the rate of inflation and population growth. Additional money above the limit would have to be used to reduce property taxes.