Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Friday, October 20, 2006

"Initiatives focus of debate in Pullman"

State and local ballot measures topic at League forum

One side argued that Washington’s ballot Initiative 933 would protect property rights while the other said it would result in developers having carte blanche to build large, high-density developments.

That was just one set of arguments given during Thursday evening’s ballot initiative forum in Pullman.

Panelists at the forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Pullman and the Pullman Chamber of Commerce spoke on:

* I-933, which would require compensation when government regulations damage the value of private property and would forbid regulations that prohibit existing legal uses of private property;

* Initiative 920, which would repeal Washington’s estate tax;

* Initiative 937, which would set quotas on the use of renewable energy for some electric utilities; and

n Proposition 1, which would renew a bond to fund parks and paths in Pullman.


I-933 would require the government to think before it creates critical areas ordinance mandates, said Tom Forbes, who spoke in favor of the measure. If the government can’t afford to pay for the property devaluation caused by something like a wetland barrier, it shouldn’t be able to force that cost onto the land owner, he said.

Aaron Flansburg, who spoke against the initiative, said I-933 would protect developers, allowing them to build nearly any kind of developments they wanted.

He asked the audience to picture a drive from Pullman to Palouse and imagine the farm land between the two cities replaced by housing.

This initiative would not repeal the zoning laws that keep farm land free of development, said Forbes, a local conservative activist. I-933 only applies to ordinances that affect different property owners in different ways.

For example, I-933 would require the government to pay someone to have a wetland barrier on their property. It wouldn’t have any effect on things like a junk-car ordinance because that applies to all property owners.

Restrictions on private land that benefit the public should be paid by the public at large, Forbes said.

Flansburg, a Palouse area farmer, said he has never had to set aside land he would use for farming due to buffer requirements.

Cities and counties don’t have the money to pay developers not to develop their land, so developers would be able to build any kind of development they pleased, he said.

The initiative would hurt farmers because it would make farm land more valuable than what most farmers can afford to pay to lease it, Flansburg said. I-933 takes away rights from local communities to decide what that community should look like in the future.


Susan Fagan, director of public affairs at Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, argued for I-920 by reading a letter written by SEL President and founder Ed Schweitzer to Gov. Chris Gregoire.

The death tax penalizes saving and encourages consumption, Fagan read.

It often results in family businesses selling parts or all of the business because they can’t afford to pay the estate tax, or they sell in anticipation of the tax, she said. That often results in lost jobs for a community when those businesses are sold to large, non-local companies.

The estate tax only applies to one-half of 1 percent of estates in Washington because it only affects estates worth $20 million or more, said Susan Daniels, a Pullman resident who spoke against I-920.

The lowest income households in Washington pay 17.6 percent of their income in local and state taxes, Daniels said. The richest households pay only 4.4 percent. The estate tax is one of Washington’s few progressive taxes because it doesn’t hit low-income families.

Individuals don’t accumulate wealth in a vacuum, and the estate tax is a way for wealthy people to pay something back to the community, Daniels said.

People with estates worth $20 million don’t have that money hidden under their mattress, Fagan said. It’s already invested in the community and in job creation. Schweitzer is a local example of that.

All the revenue generated from the estate tax goes to the Education Legacy Trust Fund.

Washington needs an educated workforce to attract businesses, Daniels said.

But, Fagan said, the estate tax is only tied to the Education Legacy Fund to make it palatable.


About one-third of the Pacific Northwest’s energy comes from burning natural gas and coal, said Forrest Stevens, a researcher at Washington State University who spoke in favor of I-937. The other two thirds of energy come mostly from hydro-electric power, but this initiative would mean a move toward a more diverse mix of renewable energy sources.

“Clean, renewable energy is the future,” Stevens said.

Economical, cost-effective renewable energy is already being developed in the state, said Fred Rettenmund, who represented Inland Power and Light and spoke against I-937.

Not all renewable energy is cost-effective, he said, and this initiative would result in an increase in price of electricity.

An initiative isn’t the best way to go about developing more renewable energy, Rettenmund said.

Proposition 1

Proposition 1 would renew the bond passed in 1998 that paid for parts of the Chipman Trail, the Riverwalk and other paths around Pullman, said Kathleen Bodley, president of the Pullman Civic Trust.

The new bond would request the same amount of money and would mature in 11 years, she said. It would fund paths, sidewalks, restrooms in three city parks, new lighting for the city play fields, and the seed money for the performing arts pavilion at Sunnyside Park.

No one spoke against the proposition.

Everyone benefits from Pullman’s sidewalks and trails, and they make pedestrians safer, Bodley said.
My Take: Aaron Flansburg is a very personable young man. We shook hands at least three times last night. However, his contentions about I-933 were just dead wrong. It was frustrating as I kept having to correct him over and over again. I-933 has nothing to do with zoning or developers paving over farmland. What will destroy farmland is the farmer hanging it up and selling out to developers. And the increasingly expensive environmental regulations mandated by the CAOs are going to put farmers under. If we want to preserve those open fields Mr. Flansburg referred to, we need I-933.

As zoning applies to all equally within a jursidiction, it is exempt from I-933. I-933 mostly addresses the excesses of the Growth Management Act and the Critical Areas Ordinances. Whitman County is lucky in that regard. Whitman County opted out of the GMA and the CAOs are not onerous, like King County. Pullman is little worse off, but not too egregious. But that's not to say that pressure from the state won't make them that way one day. We need to act now before it's too late.

I thought Suan Fagan made some great points about I-920. And I'll be voting against I-937 as it seems to be unneeded meddling in the free market.

I had a great time last night. I enjoyed talking with Whitman County Commissioner Jerry Finch and Pullman City Supervisor John Sherman, among others. The highlight of the evening, however, was finally meeting Palousitics contributor Paul Zimmerman. We chatted until they kicked us out of City Hall.


Scotty said...

So Flansburg said two things that made me want to respond right away. Imagine housing between Pullman and Palouse... Umm, I am right now, and all I can say is "A dream come true"!

Secondly, he said that he hasn't had to set farm land aside... therefore, we can conclude that nobody is being affected by regulations.

Paul E. Zimmerman said...

Scotty -

What stood out like a neon sign to me in Aaron's statements last night had to do with his implied assertion that since he has not had to set aside land, probably no farmer has:

He stated that he leases his farm land.

Of course he has never had to set land aside - he does not own the land he works! His concerns about "competing with developers" are basically that land owners might finally be able to make a greater profit with their land in other ways, so he will not be able to compete and lease it for relatively little.

Basically, then, he thinks land owners should forcefully have their options for how they will use and dispose of their property limited so that he can continue to play farmer. I can only assume that the "No" vote crowd are of a similar mindset.

If he were an actual land owning farmer, particularly in western Washington, I'd bet that his tune would be completely different. Talk about special interest politics!

Duke Foster said...

Right now the government is choosing profit over people.

Put this to an end by voting yes on I-933!!!

April E. Coggins said...

The farm land that has been put into CRP has taken more land out of farming than housing developers can ever hope. At least houses will help people, CRP land is nothing but bare land for coyotes to wander. The dreamers need to wake up and see what is happening right now in Whitman County. It's depressing to see the family farm paid to stay fallow. On the bright side, at least the farmers are being paid to "help" the environment. Just wait until the farmers are no longer paid and the fields are barren because of government mandates. How much land can be placed involuntarily into government programs like CRP, without payment?

On an unrelated side note, has anyone else noticed that the same people who are opposed to border control are also opposed to "urban sprawl"? Where are all the new immigrants supposed to live and work?

April E. Coggins said...

I should explain to people who are not aware of the CRP. It stands for the Crop Rotation Project. In Whitman County it means leaving the field to nature and allowing/encouraging the "native" plants to grow. Currently, it is a voluntary program and the farmers are PAID to place their land in CRP. The farmers are given the choice of placing their field into CRP, continue farming or allow the field to go fallow without payment. I-933 would at least give the same rights to any land owner and would certainly extend CRP rights to farmers. Every farmer should shiver at the thought that our government can place CRP restrictions on farm land and not pay for the priviledge. A yes vote for I-933 will continue the freedom and choice of property owners to responsibly use their own property. Olympia and Seattle should not be deciding what is right for Whitman County.

schruthensis said...

Hi Duke! I haven't heard back from you in a while! Still in Connecticut? This business trip of yours is sure getting long... i wonder if your wife and kids miss you? Oh wait, i forgot, you are a profiteering fraud! (read here for proof)

Have you ever even been to Washington to see your golf courses and strip malls?
What other state initiatives blogs are you poisoning with lies?

schruthensis said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.