Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Thursday, October 19, 2006

"Community members can review and ask questions about three initiatives on the ballot"

A story in today's Daily Evergreen:
Aside from choosing candidates on the ballot, voters will also be checking ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to three initiatives for Washington. The initiatives – I-920, I-933 and I-937 – concern the estate tax, government regulation of private property, and energy resources.

The Pullman League of Women Voters and the Pullman Chamber of Commerce are sponsoring an initiative forum at 7 p.m. tonight in the City Hall Conference Chambers. Six individuals involved with the initiatives were chosen to speak, said Joan Folwell, voter service chairwoman for the Pullman League of Women Voters. I-920 concerns estate tax: This measure would repeal Washington’s state laws that impose a tax when estates are transfered upon a person’s death. The money from the tax currently goes into the education legacy trust fund. An estate is the assets of a deceased person, including houses, businesses, money and other property.

Susan Fagan, director of public affairs for Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories in Pullman, said she is for the initiative and will represent Schweitzer and herself at the forum. “If funding education is the legislature’s responsibility, we should expect them to appropriate that out of the general fund and not depend on people dying to pay for people’s education,” she said. “Dying should not be a taxable event.” She said the tax is unfair because it represents assets that have been taxed at least once, and sometimes twice. The Washington estate tax combined with a federal estate tax is too much money taken away from an estate, she said. “I would ask people to consider the consequences when the family is left to decide what part of the company or farm they have to sell to keep part of it,” Fagan said. Pullman resident Susan Daniels is against the initiative said the tax has been misrepresented. The estate tax is not a “death tax” and it is not a new tax, Daniels said. The tax applies only to the largest estates worth more than $2 million, which would apply to about 0.5 percent of estates in Washington.

“Of the 46,000 tax-paying estates in Washington, fewer than 35 a year owe anything in an estate tax,” Daniels said.

“And 27 out of that 35, the business makes up less than half of the estate.” She said having the tax is not as dire as its critics make it out to be.

In the case that taxes must be paid, a person’s heirs have nine months after the death to file the estate tax, and there are deductions that can be taken, Daniels said. “It’s a one-time tax on the wealthy and is one way they can pay back to society,” Daniels said. “It’s not new and it’s definitely not fair to the lower- and middle-income people if it’s removed, because it will shift even more of the tax burden onto them.” I-937 concerns energy resource use by certain electric utilities: I-937 would require certain electric utilities with 25,000 or more customers to meet certain targets for energy conservation. The utilities would need to use accepted renewable energy sources, or pay penalties. Pullman resident Forrest Stevens, who also gathered signatures for the initiative, said it would require 15 percent of generated power to come from renewable sources by the year 2020. This gives companies time to plan for it. “The problem with the nonrenewables is they’re not going to last forever,” Steven said about energy resources. “I would rather see us build renewable capacity now before it’s really needed.” The initiative is broad in its definition of renewable sources, including efficiency improvements made. In the case of a fine being issued, the fine is capped if the cost of compliance is more than 4 percent of expenses. Besides a fear of a potential slight increase in utility rates, the main objection to the initiative is a dislike of government regulation of the market, Stevens said. Some people prefer a free-market regulation. “I have some sympathy with it; I’m not a big fan of government regulation,” he said. “But I think there is a place for government regulation.” Hugh Imhof, who is scheduled to speak against I-937 tonight, could not be contacted. However, the voter’s pamphlet outlines four main arguments against the initiative. According to the pamphlet, electric rates and utility taxes would increase for homes and businesses, which would put high-tech and family-wage manufacturing jobs at risk. The initiative would also cause low-cost hydropower to be sold to California in the wake of companies buying higher-cost alternative energy, according to the voter’s pamphlet. This is not the way to promote alternative energy, it said. Some alternative energy sources, such as wind and sun, cannot be relied on to provide energy, according to the pamphlet. But that does not compare to the costliness of such an initiative, it said.

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