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Firefighters Front Opposition to I-747

Tom Banse

Of the three initiatives on Washington's November ballot, I-747 appears the only one to create any suspense. The measure is the latest brainchild of anti-tax crusader Tim Eyman. It seeks to limit the growth of property taxes. But Eyman's campaign has acquired a formidable foe -- firefighters. Olympia correspondent Tom Banse reports.

THE NEWEST INITIATIVE FROM MUKILTEO BUSINESSMAN TIM EYMAN SHOULD SOUND FAMILIAR BECAUSE IT COMBINES ELEMENTS FROM PAST MEASURES. Eyman: "Last year, we had a debate over the idea of limiting property tax increases in the State of Washington. Was that a good idea? The voters overwhelmingly passed that." BUT HIS FIRST FORMULA WAS PROMPTLY THROWN OUT AS UNCONSTITUTIONAL BY THE STATE SUPREME COURT. SO TIM EYMAN IS BACK WITH A REVISED PROPERTY TAX LID, A ONE PERCENT ANNUAL GROWTH LIMIT THAT CAN BE EXCEEDED ONLY THROUGH A VOTE OF THE PEOPLE. Eyman: "If elected officials want more of our money, they have to ask our permission first. That was a central theme of Initiative 695 and the voters overwhelmingly voted for that." BUT THAT FEATURE HASN'T TAKEN EFFECT EITHER. CONDOMINIUM OWNER INEZ PETERSON COLLECTED SIGNATURES TO HELP CERTIFY THE NEW INITIATIVE. PETERSON SAYS THE TAXES ON HER PLACE OVERLOOKING LAKE WASHINGTON HAVE DOUBLED IN SEVEN YEARS. Peterson: "How can I afford to live in this home in another 6 or 7 years when one third of my income, if not more, will be going to the county." THE FORMER BOEING COMPUTER PROGRAMMER NOW LIVES ON A FIXED INCOME FROM A LONG-TERM DISABILITY INSURANCE POLICY. Peterson: "It will be finally maybe the message that hits the bureaucrats alongside the head and says, 'Set your priorities and start getting realistic budgets.'" PETERSON SAYS THE GOVERNMENT SHOULD FOCUS ON PROVIDING BASIC SERVICES AND TRIM LUXURIES LIKE A BRANCH LIBRARY OR TWO. SOUND TRANSIT'S LIGHT RAIL PROJECT IS ANOTHER LIGHTENING ROD. BUT SEATTLE CITY COUNCIL BUDGET CHAIR JAN DRAGO WARNS IT WON'T TAKE LONG FOR THE PROPOSED TAX LIMIT TO ERODE THE GOVERNMENT'S ABILITY TO PROVIDE EVEN THE BASICS. Drago: "The rate of inflation in the City of Seattle to maintain the services is four percent. So if we go to one percent, that's three percent less than the city's internal rate of inflation." ANY CITY COULD PUT ITS BUDGET UP TO A POPULAR VOTE TO GET A LEVY INCREASE GREATER THAN ONE PERCENT. BUT SEATTLE FIREFIGHTER KEN STUART TELLS THE SEATTLE CITYCLUB THAT KIND OF REFERENDA REALLY SHOULDN'T BE NECESSARY. Stuart: "Basic services are an integral component of what the city provides for its citizens. It shouldn't be something that the city has to come to citizens and ask, 'Do you want Medic One to come to your door. Do you want the fire department ready to show up?'" IMAGES AND VOICES OF FIREFIGHTERS DOMINATE THE CAMPAIGN ADVERTISING AGAINST INITIATIVE 747. DONATIONS MOSTLY FROM PUBLIC WORKER UNIONS PAID FOR THIS BRAND NEW T-V AD WARNING OF CUTS TO FIREFIGHTER TRAINING, EQUIPMENT, AND SAFETY. [No on 747 Ad] "They're always there for us, putting their lives on the line. Now they need our help... an extreme measure putting your firefighters at risk..." fade under DESPERATE SCARE TACTICS CLAIMS TIM EYMAN, MEANT TO DIVERT YOUR ATTENTION FROM THE GROWING TAX BURDEN. Eyman: "What does this impact on government? We're not saying that's an invalid part of the debate, but there isn't enough emphasis given to, 'What is the impact on the average taxpayer?'" IF TIM EYMAN'S INITIATIVE PASSES, THE OWNER OF HOME WORTH 150-THOUSAND DOLLARS WOULD SAVE -- ON AVERAGE -- ABOUT 26 BUCKS NEXT YEAR, AND INCREASING AMOUNTS IN SUBSEQUENT YEARS. IF I-747 GOES DOWN TO DEFEAT, EYMAN VOWS TO TRY AGAIN, AND MAYBE PROPOSE AN ACTUAL PROPERTY TAX ROLLBACK, NOT JUST A LIMIT ON THE ANNUAL INCREASE. I'M TOM BANSE IN SEATTLE.