While it is important for voters to turn in ballots by Tuesday for the Feb. 14 special election, it also is important for them to be informed. With all issues on the ballot relating to tax measures, some understanding of where the money goes is required.
Many Clark County voters, depending on where they live, will not be asked to weigh in on this election; many others will be voting on only one item. Vancouver residents are voting on whether to renew a property tax levy to support the city’s Affordable Housing Fund, and those who live within the boundary for Vancouver schools also are being asked about an operating levy for the district.
Operating levies for Woodland and Washougal schools also are in front of voters, as well as a capital levy in the Washougal School District. Voters in Camas, Battle Ground and elsewhere are not voting in this election, but the rhetoric surrounding the issues provides a lesson for future elections.
That lesson revolves around the need to fully understand the issues. For example, Proposition 3 would renew — and expand — a city of Vancouver property tax levy that is dedicated to the Affordable Housing Fund. City officials claim the current fund, which is expiring, has led to the development or preservation of more than 1,000 affordable housing units over the past six years. With help from local nonprofits, it has provided assistance for 1,654 needy households.
In contrast to a common misperception, money from the tax levy goes into the dedicated housing fund, not the city’s general fund.
The Columbian’s Editorial Board has recommended a “yes” vote on Proposition 3, but we acknowledge that there are reasonable arguments in opposition. The proposal calls for $100 million in funding over 10 years, while the current fund was for $42 million over six years, and opponents decry the expected tax increase.
Political campaigns — for or against an issue — typically focus only on surface issues; digging deep is not an effective way to appeal to voters’ emotions.
But a deep examination reveals that local investment in affordable housing also invites funding from the state and federal governments; each dollar spent by the city fund is matched by about eight dollars in other funding, which has enabled projects that have cost $284.4 million.
Critics point out — accurately — that the housing fund has been in place for six years but homelessness has continued to increase. Yet the fund has helped; while it is not a panacea, it has played a role in mitigating a situation that is a crisis not only here but in many cities throughout the country.
Meanwhile, opponents of the Vancouver school levy have echoed false claims that schools actively teach critical race theory — a college-level concept that has become a bogeyman for conservatives. Opponents also have referred to the levy as a “slush fund,” a loaded term that is inaccurate and obfuscates reasonable discussion.
The levy would support educational items that are not fully funded by the state, including transportation, instruction materials, school support staff and extracurricular activities such as music, theater and athletics. As voters consider the merits of the levy, they should have a clear understanding of what it actually does rather than embracing falsehoods designed to raise hackles.
That, of course, is important in any election. But with next week’s election focusing on tax measures and how government will spend taxpayer funds, it is particularly essential for the electorate to follow the money.