Bruce Smith and Ben Shoval are leading the charge to make it harder for the Yakima City Council to raise taxes. But while their initiative is on the November ballot, they won’t be able to vote for it.
Both live outside the city. In fact, 71 percent of the money raised so far by supporters of Proposition No. 1 to require a council supermajority to approve any tax increase comes from outside the city.
People are free to donate to whatever political campaigns they want regardless of where they live. But the role of so much outside money doesn’t sit right with Councilwoman Maureen Adkison, who earlier this year voted against a City Council resolution to send a supermajority requirement to voters.
“I’m disappointed that so much money came from people who don’t have a dog in the race” and who won’t be affected if Prop. 1 passes, Adkison said.
Smith and Shoval have been the driving force behind Citizens for Two-Thirds, which used volunteers and paid workers to collect more than the 4,400 signatures to land the measure on the ballot.
Two City Council members — Rick Ensey and Bill Lover — are the nominal co-chairmen of Citizens for Two-Thirds, but neither has been actively involved in the campaign.
The proposition’s financial backers — all of whom at least live near Yakima — are affected by the city’s taxes, said Shoval, who owns and manages property in Yakima.
“My business is located in the city; I chair the city’s Planning Commission. I’m fully a part of the city,” he said.
Shoval did live in the city until he moved earlier this year to the Naches Heights area.
His $500 donation and $2,500 in loans to the campaign are recorded under his business’ address in downtown Yakima.
By early July, the campaign had raised $13,560, including $9,685 from contributors living outside city limits, according to the Yakima Herald-Republic’s analysis of the latest records filed with the state’s Public Disclosure Commission, which regulates campaign finances in Washington.
Smith, publisher of the Yakima Valley Business Times, and his wife, Ginger, gave the campaign $5,000. The couple lives in Terrace Heights, but his business is based in Yakima. He could not be reached for comment on Friday.
As of early June, according to the latest figures from the Public Disclosure Commission, the campaign had spent about $3,000 on paid signature gatherers for the petition.
In his most recent column in the Business Times, Smith wrote that the majority of signatures were collected by volunteers.
The campaign’s median donation was $250. Much of the money went to getting enough signatures to qualify Prop. 1 for the ballot.
The campaign still has several thousand dollars on hand, and more fundraising is planned, Shoval said.
“We expect to run a robust campaign in the fall,” he said.
While most local political insiders expect voters to pass the measure, the campaign isn’t taking a win for granted.
Shoval and Smith led the unsuccessful 2011 ballot measure to create a strong-mayor form of government in Yakima.
A supermajority requirement would mean at least five of the council’s seven members would be needed to approve a tax increase.
Earlier this year, city of Spokane voters narrowly approved a supermajority requirement for their city council.
Last November, Pierce County voters approved a two-thirds majority requirement for the county council, and voters across the state passed an initiative requiring a two-thirds majority vote in the Legislature to increase taxes. The state Supreme Court overturned the initiative in February, ruling that any supermajority requirement on the Legislature could only be adopted as an amendment to the state Constitution. The measures in Pierce County and Spokane have stood because they changed their respective city and county charters. Yakima’s ballot measure, likewise, would change the city’s charter.
So far, no organized opposition has come forward in Yakima.
Yakima Mayor Micah Cawley voted against the two-thirds requirement when it came up before the City Council, but he said he won’t campaign against it.
“I think it’s a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist in Yakima,” but it’s up to voters, Cawley said.