"It's the Regressivity"

Making the poor pay more is their policy choice 

Washington is already the number one worst state in the union for regressive taxation.  

We don't need our cities to make it even worse.

Vote No on Prop 1

A 2,000 square foot single-family home will pay about $.09 per square foot, but a 800 square foot apartment will pay $.24 per square foot.  As a result, an 800 square foot apartment will pay a bigger RFA fire benefit charge than a 2,000 square foot house.  When landlords pass this through in rent, the biggest impacts will fall on some of the people least able to afford an increase.  This “reverse Robin Hood” problem with the FBC has many economic justice advocates concerned. 

This is no accident.  It is not required by "fire science" nor by the law to be regressive.  

This clip clearly shows how the consultants directed the RFA Committee to make policy choices that were in line with consultants previous work and that the formula is not really based on the fire science they claim it to be. It is a policy choice.

Despite repeated efforts by members of the City Councils to adopt a formula that is not punishing those least able to afford the new cost increases, the group yielded to the recommendations of the consultants and the argument by the city attorney that by doing what has been done in other jurisdictions provides some modicum of protection from legal challenges. 

Again and again, Council member ideas about how the FBC formula could be made more equitable were waived off by the consultants.  They asserted that anything different from their usual product would be untested and more likely to result in legal challenges and delays in creating the RFA

But the fact is that the formula they recommend and in use today is untested.  It has never been challenged in court and affirmed as compliant with state law.

Thanks to the team at Save Our Fire Departments, the proposal is only a third as regressive for multi-family units as it would have been.  Still bad overall, but it could have been so much worse. 

Despite working on the proposal for years, the RFA Planning Committee was not aware of the impact of what they were adopting on their apartment and condo residents. This is an indication of how complex and unfamiliar this fire benefit charge formula is to policy makers and their trust in consultants. 

SOFD urgently wrote emails and modeled the impact to make the city councils aware that the effect of what they were planning to adopt was much more regressive to renters than they knew.  

Fortunately, it resulted in a last-minute change just minutes before the adoption of the RFA measure by both cities on December 6, 2022.  You can see that hurried strikethrough language on the adopted Plan under the "Apartments" category by clicking here.


Below is the text and video of Tumwater Council acting to fix the problem we identified.

"I want to conclude with one more piece here that's important and that is we have we made an amendment earlier today to the RFA plan that you have. That change is to exhibit B, which describes the fire benefit charge and the amendment removed the language in that exhibit that speaks to taking an extra step of calculating a per unit average as the basis of the fire benefit charge in apartment buildings. We, probably our team, should have caught it earlier and we didn't, so my apologies for that." - John Doan, Tumwater City Manager, 12/6/22 Council Meeting

This recent article about how the city might finance climate change programs got it right, "[property taxes are] the least regressive model in terms of burdening low-income households."

Revenue raising alternatives considered by the City of Olympia 

"Pamela Braff (Olympia Climate Program Manager) spoke to the Olympia Finance Committee last week to give an update on the city council’s climate funding. Staff had been asked to research legal and viable options for a dedicated revenue stream to help the city achieve its adopted climate goals.

There are several options, including increasing property, sales, private utility or municipal utility tax rates.

The city can increase property taxes but it would need voters to approve the levy. Braff said doing this would create a consistent and predictable source of funding, and it could be imposed for a specific amount of time.

Braff said the property tax option increases costs to property owners, but it is the least regressive model in terms of burdening low-income households. She said higher property values often correlate with a higher ability to pay. There are also programs that low-income households can use to reduce their tax burden."

Source: https://www.theolympian.com/news/local/article273250320.html?ac_cid=DM777053&ac_bid=-1857668642