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Postman on Politics

Chief political reporter David Postman explores state, regional and national politics.

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November 26, 2007 9:41 AM

A Democrat struggles with political reality of tax vote

Posted by David Postman

Sen. Craig Pridemore, D-Vancouver, told me last week that when the Legislature convenes Thursday he would be a certain no vote against reinstating a 1 percent property tax cap.

But he told fellow Democratic senators in an e-mail last night that he's now not sure what to do. His constituents want Initiative 747 codified in law, and Pridemore thinks his vote could decide his political future. The e-mail describes what seems like some uncomfortable political realities facing Democrats in this week's special session.

Fellow Senators: I know a lot of you were interested in finding an alternative to simply reinstating I-747 on Thursday and I had hoped to provide you with one. After profound review and after the past few days of getting hammered (including by close friends and family), it's immensely clear to me that I don't have the political support in my own district to carry out a fight like this. I know I could have survived it under normal crcumstances, but I can't when I'm standing against a Democratic Governor AND against Democratic Senate and House leadership. It's hard to tell people this is bad for local governments when so many Democrats are smiling and saying it's no big deal. :-)


I'm not sure how I'll vote yet. If I vote No to reinstating it, I know my political future will be over after this term (next year). If I vote Yes, I'm not sure I really want to do this any more anyway. I obviously have a lot of soul-searching to do... again. I sincerely just want to get through it without buying a pack of smokes! :-)


For those of you who know this is bad public policy and do vote your conscience, you have my sincere respect always.


Craig

I did not get the e-mail from Pridemore himself. But he told me this morning that he's gotten responses from four colleagues.

One expressed extreme disappointment with me for not standing by sound public policy; the other three expressed sympathy for the situation we've all been placed in.

While Pridemore says that opposing the 1 percent limit means he has to stand against Gov. Chris Gregoire and legislative leadership, he said that Senate leadership has not lobbied him -- or anyone else that he's heard -- to vote for the cap.

MORE: Gov. Chris Gregoire talked with reporters this morning about the upcoming special session. I asked her about Pridemore's perspective and she didn't disagree that there are other lawmakers who feel the same way. And the governor said she knows what they're going through:

"I understand the dilemma. I'm acutely aware of it. I had to go through that mental exercise myself. But I will tell you that I shared with the majority leader and the Speaker of the House last legislative session that I felt that we were going to need to reinstate the 1 percent cap if the state Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional. So, I'd already gone through that mentally myself.

"The fact of the matter is, to those who feel that way, I would say to them, "Come with me to town hall meetings across the state.' You can feel the nervousness of people because of the escalating costs of their homes, yet their income doesn't change at all, that they are literally .. going to be run out of their homes, which is to them the American dream."

(Senate Majority Lisa Brown told me this morning that she doesn't recall Gregoire telling her that the 1 percent cap would have to be reinstituted in the court threw out 747. She said there was a more general discussion during the legislative session, but that she didn't remember Gregoire stating her support for a 1 percent lid.)

Gregoire said that before she called the special session she asked Democratic leaders in the House and Senate to poll members on how they'd vote on a 1 percent cap. But the "tipping point" she said that convinced her to call the Legislature into session was a handful of local governments that said they planned to take advantage of the Supreme Court decision and raise taxes above the 1 percent cap.

I asked Gregoire if she was imposing her political judgment for local officials, who in some cases said they felt comfortable that their voters would support a larger increase. She said:

"The fact of the matter is the people spoke. It isn't me. It isn't me. The initiative was voted on by the people of the state of Washington and it passed pretty overwhelmingly. So I think the people of the state of Washington made their point. They passed the one with 2 percent. They passed the one with 1 percent. Now it's up to us to do it right so it withstands constitutional challenge.

"I'm not putting my opinion instead of the local governments'. I'm just saying the will of the voters has to be carried out."

Brown said she thinks Pridemore may be overstating the political dilemma created by the tax cap vote.

"There's no doubt that property taxes are an issue in every district. ... However, as a legislator you have the ability to communicate with your constituents about what you're doing and why."

Brown said she told Gregoire there was not a lot of support for the 1 percent cap among Senate Democrats. In general, the Senate doesn't like to be rushed. Senate Democrats considered some property tax measures last session and had planned to do more next year.

The special session "comes at an inopportune time for our perspective," she said. But even with Democratic opposition, she has no doubt that the 1 percent cap will pass the Senate Thursday.

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