Keep simple majority for County Council tax votes

The News TribuneOctober 5, 2012 

Stop us before we tax again – even though we haven’t raised taxes in eight years and have no plans to do it anytime soon.

That’s what the Pierce County Council seems to be saying with Charter Amendment 40 on the Nov. 6 ballot.

A council majority is asking that voters change the county charter so that a supermajority of members – five out of seven – would be needed to approve new councilmanic taxes and increases. Currently, only a simple majority of four is needed.

It should stay that way. If voters approve the charter change, it would allow a minority of three council members to call the shots.

Given voters’ perennial support for statewide ballot measures requiring a supermajority vote for taxes in the Legislature, county voters might be tempted to approve the charter change. But allowing a minority of council members to veto tax proposals is undemocratic and could make it hard for future councils to react with flexibility in addressing budget problems.

If the council had been abusing its taxing authority in recent years, supermajority proponents might have a point. But that hasn’t been the case; the council has exercised admirable budget restraint and shown a willingness to make tough decisions that some other local governments haven’t. (Yes, Tacoma, we’re talking about you.)

Proponents’ main argument in favor of the supermajority is to send a message to the Legislature: Don’t cut funding to county programs and expect the county to pick up the slack with new taxes. We wonder how many of those making that argument also support tying legislators’ hands with the two-thirds supermajority of Initiative 1185.

County Council members are elected to make decisions that might not be popular but are needed to continue providing the services residents expect. In a representative government, the council should be able to do that by simple majority.

If a supermajority were truly needed, the issue should be addressed through the charter review process – after due deliberation by citizen freeholders. That review will next take place in 2015.

Voters should reject this charter change and leave the question to their elected freeholders and a less politicized process.

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