Ballot-ready with Nov. 7 around the corner

This week we outline WA State’s initiatives so you can make informed decisions

In only a couple weeks, Washington State voters will head to the polls to fill their ballots out. Are you ‘ballot-ready’?

Aside from electing local, state and national officials, Washington residents will be asked to vote yes or no on four initiatives this November. These issues are often overlooked in voter preparation, but the outcome of such initiatives can affect you in a more personal way than an elected representative.

This week we have outlined the basic description of each initiative along with some arguments for and against their passing. Save these descriptions for use at the ballots.

Initiative 920 Estate Tax

Initiative 920 would repeal Washington’s state laws imposing tax, now committed to the education legacy trust fund, on transfers of estates of the dead to their heirs. This measure would take away $184.5 million in taxes over the next two years. The estate tax is dedicated to funding public schools. Estates in Washington valued at more than $2 million currently pay a graduated rate ranging from 10 percent to 19 percent on the estate assets above the $2 million threshold. The value of property used primarily for farming can be deducted from the taxable estate.

Those in support of Initiative 920 say that young people are the ones that are saddled with this tax because they pay the tax when aging family members leave them property. A statement for the initiative reads, “Young people may think they will never face death taxes, but when a family member dies and a business or property must be sold in order for the government to take its cut, they realize what an unfair tax it is…. Death should not be a taxable event.”

Those against I-920 say that it would gut a vital source of dedicated funding for education by repealing Washington’s estate tax. The statement against says, “The estate tax affects less than 1 percent of Washington’s families, applying only to estates worth more than $2 million for individuals and $4 million for couples. In fact, taxes are only charged on amounts above those thresholds. If a couple’s estate is worth $4,050,000, taxes are only 10 percent of $50,000. Family farms are totally exempted, so farmers can freely pass their property on to their children.”

Initiative 933 Gov. Regulation of Private Property

Initiative 933 would require the government to compensate land owners when government regulation damages the use or value of private property, would forbid regulations that prohibit existing legal uses of private property and would provide exceptions or payments. Initiative 933 is estimated to cost state agencies $2 billion to $2.18 billion over the next six years for compensation to property owners and administration of the measure. In the same time period, the Initiative is estimated to cost cities $3.8 billion to $5.3 billion, based upon number of land-use actions since 1996, and is estimated to cost counties $1.49 billion to $1.51 billion. Costs are derived from the requirement that, with specific exceptions, state agencies and local governments must pay compensation when taking actions that prohibit or restrict the use of real and certain personal property.

Those in favor of Initiative 933 say that government has an obligation to be fair to land owners and that too often government is unfair and passes legislation that damages landowners’ use of their own property. The statement for the Initiative reads, “In the past 10 years, excessive government regulations have violated our rights and made it difficult for farmers and other property owners to use their property in reasonable ways. For most of us, our homes are our greatest investment. Government should not be able to change the rules and strip us of the use or value of our private property. I-933 protects our jobs, our economy and our retirement plans that depend on reasonable use of private property.”

Those against I-933 say that it is a deceptive initiative with many loopholes that tricks taxpayers into paying billions to land owners over perceived damage to land. The statement against says, “Here is an example of how the loopholes work. If laws prevent a property owner from expanding a strip mall in a neighborhood or building a subdivision on farmland, I-933 would force the community into a no-win choice-either waive the law or have taxpayers pay the property owner for not being able to build.”

Initiative 937 Energy Resoure and Electric Utilities

Initiative 937 would require electric utilities with 25,000 or more customers to meet targets for energy conservation and use of renewable energy resources including energy credits or pay penalties. The initiative requires the 17 largest electric utilities in Washington, which include both public and private entities, to make 15 percent of their power supply generated from renewable resources by 2020. The utilities must also set and meet energy conservation targets starting in 2010. Those for I-937 say that the initiative provides a cleaner, more affordable energy future.

The statement for the initiative says, “I-937 gives us cheaper, renewable alternatives like wind and solar. According to Puget Sound Energy, just two Washington wind farms are projected to save consumers $170 million. Renewable energy strengthens family farms by paying up to $5,000 per year per wind turbine. I-937 also saves money by requiring utilities to offer energy efficiency programs, like cash rebates for energy efficient appliances, home weatherization, and lighting, heating and cooling systems for businesses.”

Those against I-937 say that I-937 will increase electric rates and utility taxes for homes and businesses. The statement against says, “Alternative energy projects are being built now, but when required by law energy will be more costly for everyone. The non-partisan Washington Research Council estimates that I-937 will cost at least $185 million per year and could cost twice that much. Vote no on higher energy costs. I-937 does not treat low-cost hydropower as “renewable energy” while other states do. I-937 will cause low-cost hydropower to be sold to California while local utilities buy higher cost alternative energy for our homes and businesses.”

House Joint Resolution 4223 Exemption from Property Tax

The legislature has proposed a constitutional amendment on increasing an exemption from the personal property tax. This amendment would authorize the legislature to increase the personal property tax exemption for taxable personal property owned by each “head of a family” from $3,000 to $15,000.

The statement for the amendment reads, “Small businesses are the heart of Washington’s economy. Yet, the local businesses that provide good jobs for our families and communities often struggle to stay afloat. This proposed constitutional amendment-HJR 4223-will help local businesses grow and succeed. Currently, businesses must pay a personal property tax on their assets. The first $3,000 of their assets are exempt from the tax. HJR 4223 would raise the exemption allowed under the State Constitution to $15,000. Increasing the exemption will help businesses throughout Washington. Startup businesses, in-home businesses and businesses updating old equipment, such as computers or machinery, will benefit from this change.

There was no statement against the amendment, and it passed unanimously in the house and senate of Washington State.

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