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Originally published Sunday, October 11, 2009 at 4:00 PM

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Lynne Varner / Times editorial columnist

Initiative 1033 would cut into already lean budgets

Tim Eyman's Initiative 1033 will decrease future public spending but the reality is the state should spend more to make up for the draconian cuts made in the recession, says Seattle Times editorial columnist Lynne K. Varner.

Seattle Times editorial columnist

How have I lived and worked in the Puget Sound region for more than a decade without meeting Tim Eyman? Carefully, I would say, but that joke is as tired as Eyman's faux-populist rhetoric.

I finally met the E-man a few weeks ago when he came to The Seattle Times to peddle — oops meant push — his latest budget-wrecking effort, Initiative 1033. The measure is a stab at property tax relief by slowing government revenues and requiring voter approval for tax collections beyond his unrealistic limit. Spending would slow faster than rush-hour traffic on Highway 520.

Eyman was engaging, as easy as Sunday morning during his visit. He laughed when appropriate and never forgot to look questioners in the eye. He stayed on message. A carnival huckster working to seal the deal.

Eyman earns a nice living framing government into the perennial loafer living large off the sweat of others. He fancies himself a character out of an Ayn Rand novel — brilliant, hardworking and in perpetual battle to keep government's mitts out of his pocket.

He is selling a version of snake oil. I-1033 will decrease future public spending but the reality is the state should spend more in the future to make up for the draconian cuts made in the recession. It isn't smart policy to put schools on the budget chopping block at the same time they're being pushed to improve. Many of the people who've lost their jobs in the current recession are flocking to community colleges to get retrained for new jobs. Yet, just as higher education was cut substantially to make up for recent state budget deficits in the past, it would be so again if Eyman gets his way.

"The proponent of 1033 says there will be no cut in services. I just don't get how you can suggest that," Gov. Chris Gregoire says.

I agree. If I-1033 passes, the state Office of Financial Management predicts a $5.9 billion budget hole over six years. There is no way that education, human services, criminal justice and natural resources will not suffer as a result.

Colorado voters fell for promise of tax relief but the result was horrific. After the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) passed in 1992, the state dropped to 49th in funding for K-12 education; higher education spending declined by 39 percent. Mandatory vaccinations for school children were suspended because there was no money to purchase the vaccines.

Kristi Hargrove, a conservative Republican who lives five hours outside of Denver, initially liked the measure's promise to limit government. That was before she saw its impact on services used by her four children, such as public schools.

In the winter of 2002, the school board voted to lower utility costs by lowering the heat thermostat.

"This is crazy ... somebody must be misappropriating funds," Hargrove said she initially thought. Then she learned about the anti-tax measures squeeze on local budgets

TABOR's blunt instrument whacked 2004 funding for the University of Colorado back to the 1995 levels. It didn't matter that the school had nearly 5,000 more students. High school graduation rates and teacher salaries also took a nosedive.

When Coloradans finally cried "Uncle" and voted in 2005 to suspend parts of the law, $9 million to run the ballot measure seemed like a bargain. This is collateral damage our state doesn't need.

Critics like to talk about government's inefficiencies and wasteful spending. Much of that vanished in the recession. The public is left with miserly budgets that barely provide for classrooms, libraries and parks.

Let's face it, we and not this misguided initiative should be responsible for the quality of government and our lives. From Woodinville to Walla Walla, voters are electing lawmakers to do the critical work of juggling needs for corrections, foster care and even Meals on Wheels for seniors. An unnecessary intrusion would be I-1033 with its inflexible formula.

"I think about the road in front of my house and the snowplow bill ... all of the things that I benefit from that I could never afford if the costs weren't spread among all of us," says Hargrove.

Twenty-eight states have rejected a version of I-1033 at the ballot box or in the Legislature. Washington ought to make it a resounding 29.

Lynne K. Varner's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. Her e-mail address is lvarner@seattletimes.com.

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