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Originally published Tuesday, January 6, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Eyman begins state's '09 initiative drive with new plan to rein in property taxes

Professional initiative promoter Tim Eyman kicked off the 2009 ballot-measure campaigns Monday, introducing a plan that would cap government tax collections and use any excess money to reduce property taxes.

The Associated Press

OLYMPIA — Professional initiative promoter Tim Eyman kicked off the 2009 ballot-measure campaigns Monday, introducing a plan that would cap government tax collections and use any excess money to reduce property taxes.

Now comes the hard part: Eyman's latest campaign, dubbed the "Lower Property Taxes Initiative," needs to get more than 241,000 valid petition signatures to make it onto the November ballot. To leave room for error, he'll aim for about 300,000.

Eyman dodged questions about how he plans to pay for this year's signature-gathering effort, referring questioners to campaign-finance-disclosure filings. But the paperwork apparently hadn't been filed yet; a search of the Public Disclosure Commission's database turned up no filings for 2009 initiative campaigns.

Last year, after a major patron said he couldn't donate campaign money upfront, Eyman took out a loan against his home. That initiative — aimed at road congestion — failed at the polls.

The latest initiative returns to a favorite topic for Eyman and his anti-tax partners: restricting the growth of government spending and taxes.

If qualified for the ballot and approved by voters, this initiative, Eyman said, would cap the yearly growth of money collected for state, county and city general funds — the main checking accounts of government.

General-fund revenue growth would be limited to the rate of inflation, he said, with any money over the cap refunded to taxpayers by reducing property taxes next year. Any streams of tax money approved by voters wouldn't be subject to the inflation-rate cap on general-fund revenue, Eyman said. But infusions of federal spending poured into the general fund would count toward the cap, he said.

The point is twofold, Eyman said: Give property taxpayers a break and force government to spend the money it already has differently.

"They have to find ways to spend money more effectively," Eyman said.

It wasn't immediately clear who would lead the opposition campaign, although various interests on the political left usually assemble a "no" effort to counter Eyman.

A regular Eyman opponent, Democratic activist Andrew Villeneuve, said in a blog posting that Eyman's latest initiative would "devastate Washington's economy" by imposing an artificial limit on government revenue and spending for critical services.

Eyman clearly is hoping to tap voters who are being squeezed by the lingering national recession. But Villeneuve said the cratering economy also makes the initiative poorly timed, particularly in light of growing political momentum for a national stimulus plan focused on major government spending.

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A second, separate property tax-related initiative also was filed Monday.

Sponsored by Linda Courtney Cox, of Chelan, it would recalculate the values of properties as either their assessed value in 2005, or the purchase price plus cost of improvements if the property was purchased after 2005. Inherited properties would retain the value assessed at the time of inheritance.

Increases in the taxable value then would be capped at 1 percent per year, with a new value determined when a property is sold.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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