Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Wake up WA State voters; you're property taxes can be UNFAIRLY raised now!!

Revisiting an old salty wound in the unjust category:

It was certainly a "backdoor" manner in which HJR 4204 reversed the "supermajority vote" requirement for raising property taxes. How can you vote to change a supermajority requirement using a vote that only requires a “simple majority”?! It would've been perfectly reasonable/acceptable if a supermajority vote had been used to overturn the supermajority requirement but being able to use the “lower” (simple majority) requirement to change the "higher" requirement should seem seriously wrong to all voters.

It boils down to a flawed loophole that allows for "all" amendments to the constitution to need a simple majority vote (without regard to what the amendment actually changes). I.e. the law fails to take into account the rare times that a vote would actually be dealing with a change that impacts an established voting "percentage" requirement as opposed to an amendment that had nothing to do with voting percentages. This needs to be addressed as well.

A big reason it "passed" (cough, cough) is simply because 1) so many people voting for it knew they weren't directly impacted (i.e. renters and people living with relatives) by property tax school levies and they just like "the idea" of their schools getting more money and 2) An innocent mistake whereas many people don't understand why (in certain situations) a supermajority should be required iot make it a truly fair vote. In fact, ANY vote that allows people to participate who aren't directly impacted (financially) should require a supermajority in order to simply help to make up for allowing a large number of people to vote for something (like property tax levies) who are aren't even affected by it (i.e. non property owners voting to raise taxes on someone else). However, if property owners were the only people allowed to vote on issues related to property taxes then a simple majority vote would be perfectly appropriate and fair.

**To the people who voted for 4204: It's like saying it would be alright to let the residents of Oregon vote alongside WA residents on a piece of legislation to raise Washington's sales tax to 12% and using a simple majority vote to do it. I doubt they'd be ok with that...

Read on if you're interested in an expanded explanation of why the supermajority vote is necessary to make it a "fair" vote...

Examples: Assume 100 people are voting on a tax tied to property values:
--Abbreviations & colors used below: Levy Payer (LP), Non-Levy Payer (NLP)

1) "If" all 100 are LPs= The vote should require 51 votes to pass (The basic Simple Majority).

2) However, if the 100 consisted of 55 LPs & 45 NLPs the vote needs to be a supermajority. Here's why: To get a simple majority of LPs you need at least 28 to vote for the tax (28/55). The problem is that with the introduction of the 45 NLP voters, who aren't directly impacted, you've created a flawed vote. Flawed because you could get passage with as little as 6 LPs and 45NLPs voting yes (6+45=51%). That would pass the tax with only 11% (6/55=11%) support from the people who'd actually pay the tax!

Obviously a 100% (45/45) NLP voting rate is extreme but the mere fact it's a possibility shows the flaw. How about a very realistic 75% (34/45) of NLPs which would require only 31% (17/55) LPs to be passed (still extremely unfair). Obviously, passing a tax on people, when only 31% approved it, is a flawed system. Even using 64% (29/45) of NLPs you see that "a minority" 40% (22/55) of LPs still results in the tax being passed upon them.

3) The simple offset to correct this problem is to start with the baseline premise that at least a simple majority of LPs is required for passage. That means you need at least 28/55 PTPs to pass. Then, you simply have to make an educated estimate of the yes votes by NLPs. Again, it's perfectly logical that people are more likely to vote for a tax they get benefits from but don't pay for so using a potential rate of 70-80% is quite realistic. Using 75% produces .75x45=34 NLP yes votes. Recall, the premise dictates a simple majority of LPs is required for passage (28/55). Adding those figures yields 34+28=62 votes required. That equates to a 62% (62/100) vote requirement (which is a supermajority).

Adding more NLPs to the equation (&/or increasing their potential yes votes) would cause that required supermajority requirement of 62% to "potentially" go as high as 73% as follows: 45NLPs voting yes + the same 28 ("simple" majority of LPs) from above yields 45+28=73 votes (73/100= 73%). Using a 60% supermajority rule still wouldn't protect LPs in this example BUT it's a heck of a lot better than the simple majority rule that was "swindled" in 2007's HJR4204...

We should bring back equality by either:
1) Requiring a Super Majority to pass property tax issues "OR"
2) Allowing only property owners to vote on those measures... The other option is to just fund all schools by sales tax revenue (because everyone pays sales tax).
Net-net the schools would still get their money, but in a much more fair way (property owners would see their portion of the funding go down slightly while non-property owners would actually start paying a portion...)

4) By The Way: Contrary to uninformed viewpoints, renters do not always see their rents go up by the same amount landlords property taxes are increased. In a Utopian world that might be the case but "in the real world" landlords can only charge what the market will bear. Raising rent on a vacant property, or raising it such that it causes a vacancy, isn't a very sustainable business plan now is it? The property owner basically has to "eat" the additional expense in the same way a business experiences profit margin erosion when they can't pass along all their input cost increases for various reasons.

Let’s reverse 4204 and make these votes fair again!

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