Our Voice: State Rep. Haler’s waffling lets counties down

State Rep. Larry Haler’s decision to abruptly drop his sponsorship of a proposal he agreed to support on behalf of Washington’s counties is a disappointment.

It also nicks his credibility with other organizations that potentially might look to him for leadership in the future.

In April, near the end of the general legislative session, Haler, R-Richland, agreed to co-sign a bill that would allow counties to raise property taxes by more than the annual 1 percent limit.

Any talk of increasing taxes is politically risky, especially for a Republican. But county officials around the state have been struggling to maintain services as populations grow, and they need flexibility. Haler took the bold step, along with Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, to craft a bill that would replace the 1 percent annual cap in property taxes with a formula tied to inflation and population growth, with a maximum increase of 5 percent.

Now Haler says he’s having second thoughts and has withdrawn his sponsorship, preferring to make plans to study the issue and possibly craft another bill for next year. That’s not a terrible idea, but he should have thought of that before he agreed to co-sign a bill county officials were counting on.

His failure to stand up to anti-tax criticism makes it appear he either didn’t thoroughly think through his decision to support the bill in the first place — and then later regretted it, or that he caved under political, party pressure.

Hunter told The Seattle Times he thought Haler “got beat up.”

We don’t doubt it.

Anyone who pays attention to state politics could have predicted the proposal would draw the ire of Tim Eyman, the anti-tax crusader who 14 years ago pushed Initiative 747, which set the annual 1 percent cap on property taxes. The state Supreme Court struck it down six years later, saying the restriction was unconstitutional. Eventually, it was approved through the legislative process when lawmakers decided to follow public sentiment.

Since then, however, counties have found it increasingly difficult to keep up under the current constraints. Many are cutting programs and reducing staff as demands for service increase. That’s not a balanced system.

It would be great if someone could figure out a way this year to give the counties the ability they need to operate more efficiently. But Haler’s waffling makes that difficult.

The bill was going to be a tough sell since it was introduced so late in the general session, but members of the Association of Washington Counties were hopeful that with Haler’s and Hunt’s leadership, some kind of relief could come this year.

But with Haler pulling his name off the bill, those hopes are hurt.

It would have been better for Haler to let the bill’s progress play out. He may have found himself in a bruising fight, but at least he would not have disappointed those who were counting on him to try and see the battle through.