Warnings of 'power grabs' from the powerful in Olympia

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OLYMPIA — “Only in Olympia do they call raising our taxes ‘A Real Opportunity,’” read the campaign mailer.

Then there was the label “OLYMPIA POWER GRAB,” and a question, “Does anyone think this Olympia power grab is a good idea?”

Nothing surprising about the simplistic rhetoric and frightening claims. It is the type that has become standard operating procedure during election season.

The mailer’s sponsor is what makes it worth noting. Is it anti-tax initiative sponsor Tim Eyman, who has become a political power by running against the political powers in Olympia?

Is it a state Republican Party that hasn’t held the governor’s mansion since 1985, hasn’t held a majority in both houses of the Legislature since 1998 and hasn’t held all three at once since 1982?

Neither. The mailer that attempts to tap into anti-government sentiment comes from the party that is government in Washington state (although you have to look pretty hard at the return address to find the “Washington State Democratic Central Committee”).

Are Democrats urging voters to throw Democrats out of power? Not likely. Instead they are urging voters to reject Republican candidate for governor Rob McKenna. Or, as a different version describes him, “Olympia politician Rob McKenna.”

The substance of the mailer, and I’m being generous to use “substance” in context of this cynical piece of work, is the same oddball issue raised by Democratic candidate for governor Jay Inslee. In Inslee’s world view, a plan known as the levy swap to partially address the flaws in state education funding is a gimmick that equates to a tax increase.

To reduce reliance on local school levies and return the full burden of basic education to the state — both requirements of this year’s state Supreme Court ruling in McCleary v. State — the plan would shift some local levy capacity to the state property tax levy. That would increase the so-called state school levy but reduce local levies. And while some property owners would pay more — mostly in wealthier school districts — others would pay less. The plan is revenue-neutral.

But first Inslee and now the state Democratic party have taken advantage of the fact that some will pay more to argue that McKenna has endorsed a tax increase.

“Does anyone think this Olympia power grab is a good idea?” the mailer asks. They know the answer. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Ross Hunter, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, Democrats for Education Reform, state Rep. Reuven Carlyle and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn all think it is a good idea. All are Democrats. So does the League of Education Voters.

Not only should some form of the levy swap happen, it must be part of the solution to the school funding problems exposed by the court in McCleary.

And if shifting some of the property taxing capacity from school districts to the state is an “Olympia Power Grab,” then so be it. The constitution as interpreted by a unanimous state Supreme Court says funding of public schools is a state responsibility and full funding must come from state government.

The mailers remind me of one that opposed a 2004 initiative to give nontribal casinos slot machines. That one warned that expanding gambling would cause “increased family financial problems” and, in turn, domestic violence, theft, and alcohol and drug abuse. The sponsor wasn’t some anti-gambling group but instead the Muckleshoot Tribe and paid for by profits from its own casino.

I guess the Democratic mailing isn’t a surprise. Earlier this year, state Democratic Party Chairman Dwight Pelz headlined another mailing, “Stop the Republican State Government Power Grab.”

What vast conservative conspiracy had he exposed?

To Pelz, the power grab was the fact that Republicans had filed candidates for governor, secretary of state, attorney general and auditor.

So if running for office can be defined as a GOP power grab, I guess supporting a plan that most thinking people know must happen, a plan crafted and supported by many Democrats, is a Republican power grab as well.

Peter Callaghan can be reached at peter.callaghan@thenewstribune.com

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