Wednesday, December 11, 2019
Dec. 11, 2019

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Jayne: OK, we get it: Voters hate taxes

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Published: November 10, 2019, 6:02am

As elections go, this was the local equivalent of Reagan-Mondale. Or maybe Ali-Liston II. Or maybe Sonny Corleone at the toll booth in “The Godfather.”

It was a smackdown. A rout. A shellacking, the kind of which is rarely seen at the ballot box.

Camas voters not only rejected a proposal for a $78 million bond to build a new community center, they sent it to its room without supper. Through Thursday’s count, the measure was losing, 89.5 percent to 10.5 percent. Considering that bonds require 60 percent of the vote to pass, the bond came up, um, just a little bit short.

You typically can find more than 10 percent of voters who accidentally mismark their ballots or apathetically fill in a box at random. But in the case of the Camas pool and gym and community center and athletic field upgrades, voters made their opposition clear.

This is understandable. While I don’t know how I would have voted if I lived in Camas, it is easy to see why residents rejected it. For a city of about 24,000 residents, a $78 million bond is a heavy lift. And while Camasonians have expressed interest in a public pool to replace the defunct Crown Park Pool, when you need to replace a 1992 Ford Escort you probably don’t start shopping for a new Tesla.

“I was not thinking it would be that decisive,” Camas Mayor Shannon Turk told The Columbian. “We had put together the bond measure based upon years of input. Obviously, there was something there the citizens didn’t like.” City Councilor Melissa Smith said: “I’m in shock with all of it. The voters let us know. That’s OK. That was their choice.”

Indeed. That is why we have elections.

But the Camas vote seemed to be a small indicator of a larger trend exemplified by the statewide vote on Initiative 976. That trend: Voters are very, very leery of taxes. Of course, there is nothing new about that; but the passage of I-976 is particularly disturbing.

A Tim Eyman-backed measure to reduce vehicle registration fees to $30 and make it more difficult for local jurisdictions to add to the tab, I-976 appears to have passed with about 54 percent of the vote. In Clark County, it received about 61 percent.

The state Office of Financial Management estimates that passage of I-976 will reduce funding for roads and highways and the Washington State Patrol and other items by about $4 billion over the next 10 years.

Again, that was the voters’ choice; but don’t complain about a lack of new roads or dilapidated old ones in the coming years. You’ll have time to count how much you saved on vehicle tabs while sitting in traffic.

Having absolutely no credentials as a psychologist, I still have thoughts about one of the reasons I-976 passed. In a small way, a previous Eyman measure helped push his latest one across the finish line.

You see, the ballot included 12 advisory votes asking voters whether tax increases passed by the Legislature this year should be repealed or maintained. The votes are meaningless, and they are an empty remnant of an earlier initiative that was overturned by the courts. But their presence on the ballot this year reminded voters, over and over again, of the Legislature’s spendthrift ways.

When lawmakers increase the state budget to record levels by boosting taxes on items such as architectural paint and vaping products, there is bound to be some backlash.

The repercussions could be seen all over the ballot when it came to tax measures. And the lesson is that, following the Legislature’s cash grab last summer, government officials need to better engage with citizens before passing around the hat to collect more. Citizens have had enough.

As Barry McDonnell, who launched a write-in campaign for Camas mayor, said: “It fundamentally shows the issue around communication. There is a disconnect between the city elected officials and the citizens.”

That mantra was repeated throughout the state. But it was delivered most forcefully in Camas.

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