Don't trust the legislature with your money. That's basically what you hear from opponents of Initiative 1098, which would impose an income tax on individuals earning more than $200,000 a year or couples earning more than $400,000. It's also basically what Tim Eyman says in support of InItiative 1053, which would keep the legislature from raising taxes without 2/3 votes in both houses or a vote of the people. (Not that 1098 foes want to be seen as Eyman allies, much less Eyman clones; Mark Funk, who does media relations for the campaign against 1098, bristles when asked why his side shouldn't be compared to Eyman. “I've spent most of my life in politics fighting Tim Eyman,” he says.)
Opponents suggest that you can't trust I-1098, either, or at least you can't take it at face value. "We hope Washington voters aren't duped by the claim that only the rich will pay this tax,” the Wall Street Journal's editors wrote on Aug. 14. "The revenue from the tax will finance new spending, which will soar and lead to even higher deficits in the next downturn, which will create political pressure to expand the tax to the middle class."
The Seattle Times editorial board agreed. "Bill Gates Sr. — father of the famous one —recently dropped $400,000 into the campaign to convince Washington voters to saddle themselves with a state income tax," the Times informed its readers on Aug. 10. "The cash being poured into the pro-1098 campaign aims to convince you," the Times explained, "if you earn less than $200,000, that you will not pay the tax. You may not, in the first years. But the tax will be expanded. Taxes always are."
“Voters know there are no constitutional safeguards,” Dick Schrock, who directed the state's Department of Trade and Economic Development in the 1980s — and led the successful campaign against a state corporate income tax in 1975 — told Brad Shannon of The Olympian. “They could raise the rates at any time. They could raise the tax base at any time, to apply it to other income groups.”
In other words, I-1098 would let the camel's nose under the tent. The state constitution requires a two-thirds vote of the legislature to change an initiative in the first two years after it passes, but only a simple majority after that. Pass the initiative, and who knows what the legislature will do?
Opponents also claimed the initiative was misleadingly labeled. "To win votes," the Wall Street Journal editors wrote, "the ballot measure resorts to all sorts of trickery." Schrock certainly thought there was trickery involved. While I-1098 proponents were still collecting signatures to qualify the measure for November's election, he went to court to get the ballot title changed. Schrock argued that the words "income tax" should appear right at the top of the initiative petitions. He won. But he says the people circulating petitions just folded the tops down, so prospective signers couldn't see the crucial words.
And then there's the question of who's really behind 1098. No one has a bad word to say about Gates' own motives or sincerity, but 1098 opponents ask meaningfully if you've looked at the list of contributors. The really big money — apart from Gates' own — comes from unions that want to maintain or create public-sector jobs.
On the other side, 1098 backers point to the opposition contributors. Yes, there are more small donations than 1098 itself can claim, but there are also wealthy guys who have a vested interest in not paying taxes on their own high incomes.
Some opponents focus heavily on the initiative's union backing. On Aug. 10, an Evergreen Freedom Foundation blogger noted: "Just last week, SEIU's DC headquarters sent a $200,000 contribution to 'Washingtonians for education, health and tax relief,' the campaign heading up the fight for an income tax. I'm sure I'm not the only one who sees the hilarity in the committee's abuse of the phrase 'tax relief.' "
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