WA Voters Sink Port Authority Tax Increase

Published November 1, 2007

Voter turnout in Washington’s first August primary election, held August 21, may have been low, but in the Columbia River-side city of Vancouver, more than 36,000 voters turned out to overwhelmingly repeal a property tax hike that had been imposed early this year.

Nearly three of every four Vancouver voters rejected the tax hike despite claims from Port of Vancouver officials the higher taxes would be used for economic development.

“It’s refreshing to see voters reject the port’s attempt at empire building,” said Paul Guppy, vice president of research for the Washington Policy Center in Seattle. “Economic development can flourish just fine without a taxpayer-financed, government-directed real estate venture.”

Little Notice, No Approval

At issue was a $78 million, six-year tax hike enacted by Vancouver’s port commissioners in February with little public notice or input and no voter approval.

Port commissioners wanted to raise the port’s tax rate from 33.7 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value to about 79 cents. The owners of a $250,000 house would have seen their annual port tax bill go from $84.25 to about $197.50 in 2008.

Officials said most of the new tax money would have been used to purchase 218 acres of land owned by two private companies. The commissioners estimated that by redeveloping the land, $64 million in annual payroll would be generated from more than 1,800 new jobs.

The overwhelming rejection of the tax increase caught Larry Paulson, the port’s executive director, by surprise. Paulson told The Columbian newspaper, “I’m disappointed. We really believe that we need an economic industrial base for family-wage jobs.”

Citizen Activists Succeeded

Vancouver voters had the opportunity to vote on the tax increase thanks to the efforts of citizen activists Lisa Ghormley and Deb Elliott, who organized a petition-signing effort to give citizens the right to vote on the issue.

Ghormley and Elliott were upset by the port’s lack of public involvement when enacting the tax.

Ghormley, an independent voter who told reporters she supported the presidential campaigns of John Kerry, Ralph Nader, and Ross Perot, told The Oregonian newspaper, “I am not anti-tax. But as I look at the process, the public is disappearing from it.”

Jason Mercier ([email protected]) is director of the Center for Government Reform at the Washington Policy Center.