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Originally published October 23, 2013 at 3:58 PM | Page modified October 23, 2013 at 4:58 PM

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Guest: Vote no on Seattle Proposition 1

Seattle Proposition 1 will not level the playing field for challengers to run against incumbent City Council members, writes guest columnist Jordan Royer. Vote no on Seattle Proposition 1.

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SEATTLE’S Proposition 1 is not fair, does not accomplish what it says it does and should be rejected.

It is actually fairly shocking that the City Council would put this property-tax levy on the ballot given all of our funding needs. Council staff briefings highlighted its defects, and Portland voters recently rejected a similar version after only three campaign cycles.

Maybe we’re just trying to out-weird Portlanders?

The proposal on your Nov. 5 ballot will mandate homeowners, through a new property tax, to pay $2 million per year to fund City Council elections with a 6-to-1 match, and increase city staffing by $300,000.

Don’t we have more urgent needs for this money? What about our crumbling roads, police staffing, parks and schools?

It is irresponsible to increase property taxes for a program tried and rejected in Portland due to ineffectiveness and fraud. In 2006, a Portland City Council candidate gathered signatures and faked donations, then spent more than $96,000 of taxpayer money on items such as Internet marketing services from her 16-year-old daughter before fleeing to Montana.

If Proposition 1 passes, here’s how your property taxes would be used: If a council member or challenger can collect 600 campaign contributions, up to $50 of each contribution would be matched by six times that amount.

That means $30,000 in individual contributions would yield $180,000 in campaign funds from property taxes. And while getting 600 donors is a difficult bar for most to reach, incumbent City Council members have databases of contributors well over 1,000. It is easy for any incumbent to reach the 600 donor threshold — not so much for challengers.

The council knows that this program would not work as advertised. It heard presentations comparing other cities with similar schemes: San Francisco, Portland and Los Angeles. They know that it does not lead to more competitive races or turnover of offices. In fact, Seattle has a greater turnover than any of those cities that have public financing.

In reality this is an Incumbent Protection Act.

It’s interesting that there was no discussion of other options that actually could lead to a greater turnover at no cost to taxpayers. Whether or not you agree, there are ideas like term limits or moving to district elections — as recommended by Charter Amendment 19, also on the Nov. 5 ballot — to allow candidates to win with shoe leather over money.

But why would an elected official want to increase the probability of his or her own defeat? It really is too much to ask.

The wording of Proposition 1 gives away the game. If both Proposition 1 and Charter Amendment 19 pass, the public financing would only apply to at-large positions and not those elected by district.

It also does not accomplish that most elusive of goals: getting money out of politics. It does nothing to limit money that flows to consultants, mail houses or media for advertising.

In fact, it provides a public subsidy to increase cash in races. If a challenger exceeds the spending limit of $245,000, an incumbent council member would be free to hold on to the taxpayer cash and raise and spend as much additional cash as he or she wants.

Wherever this scheme has been tried, cities have seen an explosion in independent-expenditure campaigns as well. And if Seattle’s Ethics and Elections Commission director finds that the independent-expenditure campaign is in favor of one candidate or another, he will count that money toward that candidate’s spending cap.

As a candidate for Seattle City Council in 2009, I can attest to hating the dialing-for-dollars game. The system needs improvement, but Proposition 1 is not the answer.

It means more cash, less control and greater protection for incumbents, with homeowners forced to fund it all. It’s not fair, doesn’t work and is a giant waste of time and resources when we have better things to do.

Jordan Royer works for the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association, advocating for the maritime industry in Seattle. He previously worked in the Paul Schell and Greg Nickels mayoral administrations.

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