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When Does Temporary Become Permanent?

September 17th, 2007 by Steven Gardner

The Seattle Times, The Columbian and Bob Meadows (His take is at www.portorchardindependent.com, then you have to search for it.) have all weighed in on Senate Bill 5498. So has Horse’s Ass.

The issue is whether language deletion in the bill now means that lid lifts and the like are permanent unless specified otherwise. A Revenue department memo suggested as much, and the Times is convinced the new law does what Revenue fears. Horse’s Ass disagrees. The Columbian wants clarity and Bob Meadows writes:

The new law gives all taxing districts that can impose regular levies the power to propose this different kind of lid lift, and also makes the increase in the levy lid permanent unless the ballot measure specifically says it is of limited duration.

The State Attorney General has, according to a couple of sources, been asked to weigh in and be the final word on this issue.

As Meadows said in his piece this could be relevant in Bremerton. Bremerton is hoping to get voter approval on a six-year lid lift to pay for park improvements and sidewalk construction. The language clearly states Bremerton the increase in 2008 and for each of the five succeeding years.

Roger Lubovich, Bremerton’s city attorney, said he’s been having discussions with other attorneys on the matter, and there is strong opinion within the legal community that the Department of Revenue speculation (and with it The Seattle Times) is flat out wrong.

I’ve read the bill, and while I don’t count myself as a MENSA member, I don’t think I’m an idiot. I found the bill confusing.

What seemed clear to me, though, is language toward the end of the bill which states,

Except as otherwise provided in an approved ballot measure under this section, after the expiration of a limited period . . . subsequent levies shall be computed as if . . . The limited proposition under subsection (4) of this section had not been approved . . .

That means once the special levy is over, the tax rate goes back to what it would have been had the levy never been passed.

But even Lubovich, an attorney, can’t definitively state that that’s the law. That’s why we’ll all wait for the AG to weigh in.

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2 Responses to “When Does Temporary Become Permanent?”

  1. Bob Meadows Says:

    The “Except as otherwise provided…” part you quoted is now subsection (5) of RCW 84.55.050.

    Note that subsection (5) refers to the limited duration which subsection (4) authorizes, but DOR is looking at an entirely different subsection — subsection (2).

    Unfortunately, it appears that the DOR folks have not yet — as of my correspondence with them, anyway — grasped the distinction between saying “six years” when stating a limited duration and “six years” when stating the number of consecutive years in which the lid would be raised by something other than I-747′s limit factor.

    At the end of subsection (4), the law authorizes “any combination” of the limits stated in (4). This means you could have a lid lift which uses “six years” in two entirely different ways, if you want.

    The first way would be a subsection (2) lid lift that raises the lid in each of the six consecutive years by more than I-747 would allow. (An ordinary temporary lid lift would raise the lid in the first year and then use the I-747 limit factor in each of the remaining five years.)

    The second way would be a subsection (4) lid lift of limited duration. The “six years” used in this lift would refer to the duration of the increased levy authority, not to each annual increase during the six years.

    Put the two together, as I believe King County did in its parks levy lid lift ballot measures, and you have a temporary lid lift lasting only six years and an increase in each of those consecutive years by more than I-747′s limit factor. At the end of the six years, the levy lid drops back to what it would have been, just as subsection (5) says.

    The key is to look for language in the ballot measure stating a duration of the increased levy authority — and you have to look in the ordinance or resolution to find the “ballot measure” itself. The “ballot title” is merely a concise description of the ballot measure to be placed on the ballot that voters use to mark their votes. (At least one of DOR’s lawyers doesn’t know this, and thinks the “ballot measure” is the “ballot title.”)

    If you look at the King County ordinances, you will see that the “six years” wording is used in both ways — to state the limited duration and to state the consecutive annual increases above I-747′s limit factor.

    If you look at Bremerton’s resolution 3032, you will find a reference to the five years following the first year, but you won’t find any use of the “six years” words to describe annual increases in years two through six above the I-747 limit factor. Apparently, the reference to six years in Bremerton’s ballot measure was intended to refer to the limited duration — and their wording is almost exactly the same as DOR itself recommended a few years ago to be used for lid lifts of limited duration.

    Unfortunately, the belated opinion of DOR came after the King County and Bremerton measures were written, so the lawyers were probably surprised to find that their tried and true wording was possibly not clear.

    Maybe in the future, they will try speaking standard English in their ballot measures — just as the briefings to the councils used English to tell the council members that they were putting temporary lid lifts on the ballot, not permanent lid lifts. They can be as wordy as they want in the ballot measures — it’s only in the ballot titles that they are supposed to limit themselves to fewer words in describing the ballot measure. (Of course, they need to agree on which words they all think refer to one use of the “six years” and which refer to the other use of the “six years” in the brief description in the “ballot title,” so the voters will know what the high priests have tried to say.)

  2. Tom Rosendale Says:

    Those that sponsored the bill should be held accountable for it being poorly worded. This is the type of thing that turns so many off to politics and politicians.

    Of course, the harder to understand the more attorneys will be called in and conveniently charge for their service.

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