‘Enough is enough’: Taxes dominate lively 21st District town hall

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Taxes took center stage as an estimated 100 citizens gathered Saturday morning at Meadowdale High School for a town hall style meeting that brought them face to face with their representatives in Olympia: Sen Marko Liias, Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self and Rep. Strom Peterson.

Many attendees had received their annual property tax statements earlier in the week, and for many the sting of 15 percent and greater increases was still fresh in their minds.

The meeting was mostly a question-and-answer session, where citizens took the microphone, had their say with questions and comments, and received immediate feedback from the legislators. The sometimes-heated questions covered a lot of territory, but the vast majority expressed concern and anger over taxes both in effect and under consideration.

“Enough is enough,” said Carolyn Strong of Edmonds, who echoed the frustration felt by many. “We’re being taxed to death. We need to pull our property taxes back down. And all this talk of a carbon tax — it won’t reduce global warming by even a fraction of a degree, but it’ll cost us plenty.”

“My landlady just got her property tax statement this week, and the increases mean she’ll have to pay two-and-a-half months of her Social Security income just to cover the taxes,” said Nancy Volpert, a self-employed housecleaner from Everett. “As for myself, I drive about 1,000 miles each month traveling to my clients’ homes. I’m hauling vacuums, brooms and cleaning supplies, so public transportation isn’t an option. I’m really scared at the prospect of higher gas taxes or, heaven forbid, a mileage tax. I live close enough to the financial edge as it is, and this could put me out of business.”

Strong and Volpert were joined by dozens of others expressing similar concerns.

Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self could relate.

“I opened my property tax statement last night and almost had a heart attack,” she said. “We knew it was going to be bad when we passed it, but with divided government in Olympia it was the only open path to meeting our court-mandated obligation to fund basic education. But now that we have a Democratic majority in both houses, we’re committed to fixing this for next year by rolling back the burden on homeowners and switching it to a capital gains tax. This means a less-regressive tax where people making money off investments will carry a larger share, and homeowners will see their tax bills actually go down significantly. Simply stated, if you’re not paying capital gains taxes to the IRS, you won’t be paying this one either and your total tax bill will be less.”

Rep. Strom Peterson then spoke to the issue of a carbon tax.

“Part of the bigger picture here is putting Washington State in a position to help lead the way to a carbon-free future,” he said. “We’re putting tremendous effort into being bipartisan in this. It’s the next economy. It means a future with vibrant clean energy industries that will bring jobs and economic gain. And we want those jobs right here in Washington, not overseas.”

While taxes were the dominant issue of the town hall, many citizens expressed deep concerns about gun violence and what our representatives are doing to address it.

“I’m really tired of being accused of trying to take away citizens’ Second Amendment rights,” said an obviously irate Ortiz-Self. “It’s not about rights; it’s about common sense gun laws. I’ve looked in the faces of too many grieving parents. We need to keep our children safe. It’s our kids we’re losing.

“Of course it’s a bigger issue than just guns,” she went on. “We can’t look at the gun issue void of mental health. And I’m absolutely appalled at President Trump laying the blame on inadequate attention to mental health right after he slashed the mental health budget.”

Peterson added: “We have a bump stock bill moving through the legislature right now, and I expect it will be on the floor within days. Other gun measures are in progress, but may not make it across the finish line this session. In the meantime, please everyone, keep the pressure on us with letters, emails, phone calls and visits.”

Sen. Liias stressed the need to appeal across the political spectrum on the gun issue. “My dad was an avid hunter, and I grew up in an environment that included guns,” he said. “We need to make sure that we protect the rights of legitimate gun owners, while keeping guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them. Common sense measures like prohibiting bump stocks, which has gained strong bipartisan support, will help get us there.”

Several other citizens voiced concerns about the opioid epidemic, relaying heartfelt personal stories of ruined lives, years of battling addiction, and losing loved ones to overdoses.

“This has touched my life too,” said Peterson. “I’ve lost a cousin and brother-in-law to overdoses, so to me it’s personal. We’ve passed several bills through the House to fund more treatment, institute a drug take-back program, and more. And I’ve learned that one thing we must do to address this effectively is get beyond the shame and stigma of drug addiction. We need to talk about it. And at the same time we need to recognize that there are many folks who legitimately need prescription opioids, and we have to ensure that they are able to get them.”

Other issues raised at the town hall included the proposed legislation to regulate fish farms in Puget Sound; where the legalized marijuana taxes are going; expanding the rights of non-custodial parents and family members to have access to minor children after divorce; ensuring adequate funding for Department of Social and Health Services language interpreters; and the hike in car tab costs to fund Sound Transit even though light rail is still years away.

Responding to the latter, Sen. Liias pointed out that even though light rail hasn’t made it to Snohomish County yet, the funds are being used right now to pay for more buses. “Forty percent of our commuters along I-5 are using these buses,” he said. “So even though light rail isn’t here yet, the money from car tabs is definitely reducing congestion.”

In conclusion, all three legislators urged citizens to continue letting their voices be heard, and to stay involved.

“It is so important to hear from you,” concluded Peterson. “Write, email, call, or better yet come down to Olympia. We’re happy to throw the lobbyists out of our office to meet with the citizens we represent. You come first.”

— Story and photos by Larry Vogel

41 Replies to “‘Enough is enough’: Taxes dominate lively 21st District town hall”

  1. Thank you for taking your time to cover this event. It wou ld be nice if our representatives were focused working for the citizens instead of against President Trump.

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  2. Thank you for covering this event. I have no idea what the previous comment means as these reps are all dems and there is no evidence presented to suggest they are working for Trump. They attempted to answer citizens’ questions (when questions were actually posed) directly and succinctly. Facts matter and we all need to be cognizant of extensive efforts by many to discourage any confidence in government.

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    1. JB is so right. Fact are very important and the more we know the facts we can make informed decisions. It amazes me that so many would give JB a thumbs done to her post.

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  3. I really enjoyed attending this event. The range of topics covered and the knowledge of the senator and representatives was impressive. thanks to our elected officials good reporting Larry.

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  4. Let there be no doubt why residents on social security are hurting. Since 2013 my school taxes have increased by 88% and my income from social security has actually dropped by $5.00 a month. There’s no reason for my situation to not be typical.

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  5. Lillian Ortiz-Self: “…rolling back the burden on homeowners and switching it to a capital gains tax!”
    Please expand on the “methodology” of the “switch”…

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  6. Peterson and Ortiz-Self are so out in left field it is staggering. When you make Liias look like a moderate, that is saying something. Why we continue to elect people like this is beyond me. Democrats tax you to death…that is ALL. THEY. DO.

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  7. Just some observations from some legislator statements. “We knew it would be bad when we passed it.” Why pass it? “It was the only path open with a divided Olympia.” Why is that the taxpayer’s problem?

    Who could vote for that in good conscience knowing full well homeowners had already been hit with ST3 and car tabs. Now throw in ESD levy. School taxes were already high and they knew it.

    Just asking the questions. Did I miss something?

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    1. Dave Earling, the “Mayor” of Edmonds is a board director of Sound Transit. Sound Transit lied to the State, to the Voters and yet people trust what he says??
      Unless Earling is voted out as Mayor of Edmonds, you will see Edmonds turn into Ballard.

      The only businesses that thrive in that “urban village” environment are investment offices, real estate brokerage, banking, resturants and bars.

      That is all that will be in Edmonds in the future. I have seen it in town after town.
      Small business owners are forced out of town.

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  8. If school funding is the paramount duty of the state they it should be funded first. Then other things can be funded with what is left. If the state runs out of funding then stop doing it or ask the people if they want to fund it. Following the public priorities would be best.

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    1. Who is really testing the reasonableness of school spending? Why should the Edmonds School District need 88% more in taxes than 5 years ago?

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      1. Not sure how you calculated the 88% more? But the question of reasonableness is valid. With the new state funding model where the state pays for Basic Education I would guess it is the legislature who will just the reasonableness of the spending. For local levies then that task will fall to the elected School Board I would guess. If so then we can contact our school board members and our legislatures to find out how they are measuring reasonableness.

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        1. I’d be surprised that anyone who has owned the same property in the Edmonds School District since 2013 didn’t have nearly the same increase. Several weeks ago I calculated my increase since 2011 and it doubled (100% higher).

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    1. I don’t know for certain, but I would guess that since it has been upheld by the Wa State Supreme Court it would have to be appealed to the Wa State Court of Appeals.

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      1. The original case was in Superior Court and it was then appealed directly to the Supreme Court, by passing the Court of Appeals. The parties knew it would go to the Supreme Count anyway so they agreed to skip that Court of Appeals. In this case the Supreme Court continues to holds jurisdiction.

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  9. The short answer is no because it has already been appealed. McCleary started in the lower courts and found its way on appeal to the Washington State Supreme Court. That court has ruled several times on various elements of the case. Basically the state constitution says it is the “Paramount Duty of the State to provide education.” The legislature decided to build a financing plan that paid for the shortfalls with new taxes rather then paying for education first. And rather than paying for all that the 295 districts were already doing they left “Enrichment” to the local districts. Enrichments are things like after school programs, longer school days and year, reduced class sizes, special education needs, and extracurricular activities. The also do not pay for the full salaries of teachers and staff. They limit the local levies to $1.50/1000 of assess values or $2500/kid, whichever is lower. For now in Edmonds the $1.50/1000 will be the lower of the two but if our tax base continues to grow the $2500/kid formula will be lower.

    Stay tuned, the legislature is now talking about using surplus revenues to lower our property taxes.

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  10. It is interesting that Public Education never says ‘we have enough money and don’t need anymore…thanks anyway’

    In other words, Education always seems to cry ‘poor mouth’ regardless of how much it gets…and it never gives any of the money back!

    It, for the large part, is a sunk cost…

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    1. Perhaps education has never been funded at an appropriate level, thus the need. As a retired educator, I know that expectations for results from schools always exceeded a willingness to properly support those schools financially. “Teachers do it for the love, not the money.” While most of us enter the profession because we want to teach and make a difference, that doesn’t mean we should be satisfied with compensation that tends to be below average for the level of education required. It’s tough to balance funding and outcomes in education, as there’s such a delay between education and level of achievement. I don’t have the answer to appropriate funding, but I am tired of the cheap shots like “poor mouthing,” “summers off” or “taxes” being an excuse to put down schools and divert attention from the kids. Investing in education pays great dividends down the road.

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      1. It is probably true that education has never been funded at an appropriate level, but elected officials shouldn’t be trying to get it to the right level “over night”. The magnitude of annual increases need to be at a more reasonable level. The same situation exists with our transportation needs. Sound Transit is trying to make up too quickly for what should have been done years ago.

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      2. What BC says is from the heart and from the head. For the life of me I cannot understand why the thumbs down. It would be nice if we would spend some of our energies on trying to understand and to help rather then just bad mouth our taxes. My volunteer work with the schools has lead me to greater understanding of some of the issues. Each time I learn something that could use some help with a new idea or two I have offered it to whom ever would listen. I am happy to report that our educators are good listeners. Let’s find ways to offer fresh ideas and support and I think we will all be amazed at what a difference we can make.

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    1. That’s what I want to know. I voted for these people and I am very angry. We definitely need better candidates to vote for. On both sides.

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    2. In our democracy we elect folks to represent us. Provide us a look at what they do is nothing more than helping us see the good job they may be doing for us. They love to send us a flyer from time to time telling us of all the achievements but seem reluctant to let us see how they do the job of representing us. If they all wore body cams we could see first hand the job they are doing for us and with whom they are meeting.

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  11. 46 percent against the levy is still a significant number. What would the final results look like amongst voting property owners only?

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  12. Like so many taxes it is often hidden. Own a home and you get a direct bill. Rent an apt and the landlord gets a bill and includes in your rent. Yes the result would likely be different if only people getting a bill could vote. Homeowners and landlords would vote but not the tenants.

    Their are a number of issues with school funding and voting. To me here is the sadist point of all in our democracy: People did not vote! 30,000 votes in total in a district that has a population of 107,400 people. I do not have the data on the number of voting age people in that population but a guess is higher than 60,000. Some are actually registered to vote and that data probably is available.

    Democracy would work better if we all stepped up to our opportunity to vote. The next school election is 2 years away. That election will likely have a new found interest in our voting eligible population.

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      1. DW, thanks for the reminder for the April 24 election. There will be a public meeting at the Library April 2 6-7pm. Also in the link you provided are details about the new tax rates for this levy. With todays tax rate the base evaluation of $9.1B will produce $3.5m for the library. The proposed tax rate will produce $4.3m or an increase of $800k. The article in the link also suggests the new levy is some form of restoral. The SnoIsle web site show the budget steadily growing from $46.9m in 2014 to $57.1m in 2018.
        Just reporting…

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        1. Yes, as you know Darrol, the new PROPOSED levy may be restoring the amount per $1,000 of assessed property values, but that’s only one-half of the calculation that determines the tax amount. The other one-half is the amount of property values that have risen sharply, much more than the tax rate has dropped. Let’s not let government officials rip us off one more time!

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  13. Secrecy at the Legislature. Todays Seattle Times had an article pointing out the NRA does not give money to the elected, they just keep score on how someone votes and publishes that information. Clever actually. What the legislature has done is to make their work leading up to a vote secret. I would bet we would get some results on gun issues if they could have a Secret Vote from time to time. If they could cast their vote on AR 15’s and age 21 for example I think it would pass by a big margin. Todays method forces votes along some ideological line. Voting in secret would allow them to reflect the views of the people they represent. I am sure all of us could come up with a list of things we would allow them vote on secretly. Any suggestions?

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  14. All State Leg voting, emails, etc are paid for with out TAX dollars…they work for us. All communications should be public and transparent!

    What are they hiding???

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  15. I can remember not long ago when the ESD levy approval requirement was 60% and then systematically moved to 50% majority because it was getting hard to pass levies.

    By the old criteria this levy would have failed as well. A case might be made for accelerated cost in school tax here.

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    1. Keeping track of all the strange issues with education is a bit of mess. One has to do a ton of research to put all the pieces together. 60%, 50% Basic vs Enriched, Unfunded mandates. You name it, it is complicated and hard to follow all the issues. With about half of our state budget targeting education it would be nice if it were easy to understand at least the general issues of education. Maybe a taxpayer has put it all down in an email to the legislature but they won’t make it available to the public under the new law.

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