Eyman's supermajority initiative: Tougher sale this time

I-1185 is a familiar attempt to require legislative supermajorities on tax votes. But the economic environment has changed, school funding needs are acute, and a recent court ruling declared supermajorities violate our state constitution.
Tim Eyman at the 2012 Tacoma Republican Convention.

Tim Eyman at the 2012 Tacoma Republican Convention. Stephen Schwartz

Tim Eyman, initiative king.

Tim Eyman, initiative king.

Another election year, another go-round with Tim Eyman, the initiative king. I’m doing everything I can as a volunteer in opposition to this year’s Initiative 1185, so bear in mind that I am co-chair of the No on 1185 Committee as I share at Crosscut some of the featured themes of the debate.

Initiative 1185 is Eyman’s effort to renew the requirement for supermajority approval – a two-thirds vote in each chamber – to pass most tax legislation in Olympia. Eyman does this every two years (we last saw it as I-1053 in 2010) because otherwise the legislature has the power to set aside the initiative-spawned supermajority rule by simple majority vote. Thus, Eyman’s I-1185 campaign this time around will re-hash his same themes of I-1053 two years ago. The basic Eyman contention: Only the supermajority constraint protects us from a legislature indifferent to taxpayers and bent on hog-wild fiscal profligacy.

Sequels by formula, however, are tricky business. Batman & Robin nearly did Batman in for good. I-1185 in today’s circumstances could be quite a different proposition from I-1053 that Eyman correctly boasts was handily passed two years ago. This year his war chest has been contributed by almost no one but the likes of BP and three other big oil companies, plus the Washington, D.C. mega-lobby Beer Institute. Over $1 million seems to have been run through by the paid signature gathering effort to get I-1185 on the ballot. Suggestions have been reported by The Stranger’s David Goldstein, and are now under investigation by the Public Disclosure Commission, that some of the money may have been improperly diverted to other Eyman causes.

On the other side, we opponents will be volunteering our efforts with the benefit of no war chest at all much beyond what will pay for a website and a facebook page. So don’t expect I-1185 commercials to clutter up your cable channel on either side’s account.

But visibility in political currency may come anyway because, quite unlike the stand-alone contest over I-1053 two years ago, in this Democrat Jay Inslee opposes it. Will there be a coattail effect? If so, which direction will it run?

Another difference from two years ago lies at the fiscal heart of the matter. That is the much-worsened state of the budgetary landscape, now distinctly overhung by Eyman’s supermajority approach. Driving to frugality in government, as I-1053 voters may have hoped for in 2010, is one thing. Arriving at penury, as we have fallen into by 2012, is quite another. We see all around us shrunken social services, closed state parks, crumbling roads, gaps in public health protections. But the gravest marks of fiscal impoverishment are the cuts to state funding for K-12 public education and our public colleges.

The scale of cutbacks in education funding, tied to the supermajority rule’s blockading of a balanced fiscal responses to the recession, has been very large. Against the baseline of 2008, successive budges for 2009-2013 have cut state funding for K-12 education on the order of $2 billon.

That problem is spotlighted in the state Supreme Court’s McCleary declaration last January, ruling that the state is failing its paramount constitutional duty adequately to fund public elementary and secondary schools, and setting a deadline for fixing it.

The cost of remedying the McCleary situation is understandably still unsettled. But the number seems never to be pegged at less than $1 billion in the next budget, and climbing significantly after that. Both gubernatorial candidates have offered brave but perhaps wishful assertions that this can be done without tax increases. But those claims have run into a barrage of sober assessments earnestly emanating from Gov. Gregoire’s Office of Financial Management and widely echoed among those close to the education funding discussion.


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Comments:

Posted Mon, Sep 17, 6:53 a.m. Inappropriate

I still recall Mr. MacDonald's problem with the facts in a debate he held on Eyman's anti-tolling initiative, on the Dave Boze Show. He stated there was "No plans to expand tolling, to other major roads and bridges in the Puget Sound Area." When the host called him on this obvious factual error (PSRC 2040, WSDOT Transporation Plans), MacDonald stated he "Didn't feel that the Legislature would vote to approve any further Tolling". The moral of the story is that Mr. MacDonald is perfectly capable of playing fast and loose with the truth, to attain his political goals.

Given Mr. MacDonald's opposition to the supermajority requirements, I assume he will working with his friends in the Democrat majority in the Legislature to remove the existing sumpermajority requirments on School Bonds and other obligations.

Cameron

Posted Fri, Sep 21, 12:16 p.m. Inappropriate

Shhhhh! Never bring up past lies!

NotFan

Posted Mon, Sep 17, 7:11 a.m. Inappropriate

After hearing the results of the negotiations with state workers to make up the loss of the last two years' pay cuts, it seems to me that the state is doing fairly well.

Norge

Posted Fri, Sep 21, 12:15 p.m. Inappropriate

I'd also note that the City of Seattle and King County are flush enough that they're on the verge of rubber stamping a contract that will hand over $350 million of taxpayer funds to a California billionaire for his basketball arena. I see no reason to do anything but oppose all new tax levies at the local level, and all new tax increases at the state level. There's plenty of money around.

NotFan

Posted Mon, Sep 17, 8:25 a.m. Inappropriate

Mr. MacDonald seems to believe that voters will accept the math formula:

Eyman = bad
Eyman supports I-1185
therefore: I-1185 = bad

Seems to me that he's the one who thinks voters are stupid because voters approve our initiatives when they see the Legislature being fiscally irresponsible. And they've seen that alot of that in Olympia during the Mike Lowry/Gary Locke/Chris Gregoire years (recklessly unsustainable budgets, spending billions more than they were taking in, etc).

If politicians want to know why voters voluntarily sign our petitions and support the 2/3, they simply need to look in the mirror.

The 2010 legislative session was a perfect example of how Olympia works. The FIRST bill signed into law by Gregoire overturned the 2/3. Without those protections and with a simple majority, they could have closed any unjustified tax loophole: they closed none. With a simple majority, they could have taxed the rich: they didn't. With a simple majority, they could have taxed the powerful corporations, they didn't.

Instead, they imposed $6.7 billion in higher taxes on Joe Sixpack (it was $7.1 billion but voters repealed 5% of the 2010 tax package with I-1107).

If voters approve I-1185, taxpayers will be protected for another two years because the people will have told the Legislature to restrain themselves and they'll have a tough time blatantly ignoring that message.

But if voters reject I-1185, Olympia will go absolutely hog wild raising taxes because the people will be saying "tax us more". And the Legislature will take that message, special interests will multiply that message, and when the 2013 and 2014 sessions are over, you'll be lucky to have anything left in your paycheck for you and your family.

This math seems to make more sense:

Eyman is irrelevant
I-1185 = protection from Olympia's insatiable tax appetite
therefore: voters support I-1185 because it extends I-601/I-960/I-1053 protections

timeyman

Posted Mon, Sep 17, 9:13 a.m. Inappropriate

From the piece:

[Washington] ranks well below the middle in state and local tax burden — the authoritative national watchdog Tax Foundation reported us for 2009 at 29th from the top.

The tax advocates around here like this statistic from that source. They also like calling that organization things like “an authoritative national watchdog”.

There are a number of fake-enemies raising BS claims the tax advocates around here trot out as grist for the media. Anyone think the Tax Foundation puts out trustworthy data?

I tried to find the data underlying that 29th-place ranking, to check its validity. I couldn’t find it. Maybe somebody wants to help out, and provide some information that might substantiate this claim?

What I did find at the Tax Foundation’s website is a whole bunch of conclusory assertions without support. Here is the methodology paper describing the “tax burden” rankings:

http://taxfoundation.org/sites/taxfoundation.org/files/docs/wp4.pdf

That is not helpful. Nobody could use what’s there to substantiate that “29th – place” ranking.

Now here’s the chart showing that ranking:

http://taxfoundation.org/article/state-and-local-tax-burdens-all-states-one-year-1977-2009

The figure given there for total state and local taxes paid in Washington is $4,408. The figure for taxes paid per capita to the state of Washington is $3,141, and the taxes paid per capita to other states is shown as $1,267.

Where are local taxes shown there?

There is a vast array of very pricey taxes imposed just in the Puget Sound region. Sound Transit and Metro collect a combined 1.8% local sales tax, both collect car tab taxes, and Metro collects a property tax. Those alone cost even families in the second-to-lowest income quintiles here more than $500 each year. There are all kinds of additional local taxes imposed by special taxing districts, the counties around here, Seattle, SHA, TBD’s, PFD’s, local school and fire districts, etc. that are not imposed statewide. Are ANY of those “unique to here” taxes contained in the figures shown on that chart? My guess is no, but that Tax Foundation website does not explain its methodology or link to the data sources it relies on.

Doug MacDonald seems really impressed by that “Tax Foundation” ranking. Can anyone explain how it might be valid using, you know, actual data about tax impacts from all taxing districts that are at work around here?

crossrip

Posted Mon, Sep 17, 10:25 a.m. Inappropriate

The irony here is that the Tax Foundation is a conservative national foundation that does all it can to point out the taxes people pay, like how many months a year you have to work to pay taxes.
The page stating that Washington State ranks 29th lowest in state and local taxes is easy to find. Here is the link. http://taxfoundation.org/state-tax-climate/washington
This page also notes that we rank 7th highest in what they call the State's Business Tax Climate Index. Business can not complain that much about their taxes here since they would see more taxes in 43 other states. That's probably because of the large number of tax loopholes that exist here that benefit businesses.
Initiative 1185 also mainly benefits businesses because it protects those tax loopholes by requiring a 2/3 vote to eliminate any tax loophole. That is one of the reasons why Big Oil corporations like BP and the Beer Institute spent a million dollars to buy signatures to put I-1185 on the ballot.
The other figure to note is that Washington State ranks 13th highest in personal income per capita. http://taxfoundation.org/article/income-capita-state-fiscal-year-2010
Obviously there is the ability to raise more revenue if it is done fairly, like imposing an income tax that is proportional to what one earns, rather than higher sales taxes,for example. Washington state's current tax structure is regressive in that lower income folks pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes that do high income folks.
Unfortunately measures like I-1185 make it almost impossible for tax reform that would shift taxes to a more fair system.

Posted Mon, Sep 17, 10:45 a.m. Inappropriate

The [Tax Foundation] page stating that Washington State ranks 29th lowest in state and local taxes is easy to find.

It sure is easy to find, Steve. In fact, here’s the chart showing that ranking:

http://taxfoundation.org/article/state-and-local-tax-burdens-all-states-one-year-1977-2009

The figure given there for total state and local taxes paid in Washington is $4,408.

The figure shown for taxes paid per capita to the state of Washington is $3,141, and the figure shown for taxes paid per capita to other states is shown as $1,267.

That means the Tax Foundation believes NO local taxes are paid by people here. Why do you think the Tax Foundation is so wrong about that, Steve?

crossrip

Posted Sat, Oct 20, 8:31 p.m. Inappropriate

Do a little reading - if you click on the link - http://taxfoundation.org/sites/taxfoundation.org/files/docs/wp4.pdf entitled Tax Foundation State and Local Tax Burden Estimates for 2008: An In-Depth Analysis and Methodological Overview you will see it explained. It says "...each state’s tax burden includes taxes paid by a given state’s residents to its own state and local governments as well as to state and local governments in other states." The "Washington state" state and local taxes are included in
the $3,141. The surprise is that $1267 per capita in taxes is paid by Washington State residents to other states. The $4,408 is what Washington State folks pay in state and local taxes in total, including a quarter of which actually goes to other states.

Posted Mon, Sep 17, 10:45 a.m. Inappropriate

Ok here's "tax burden" to compare. Goldy at the Stranger shows a comparison of state and local taxes for someone making $150,000 in Seattle compared to the largest city in the other 49 state and the District of Columbia. Seattle comes in at 43rd lowest in taxes. For someone making $50,000 we're 29th and someone making $25,000 we're 18th. Lower income people pay a higher percentage because we have high sales taxes which are regressive and no income tax.
http://slog.thestranger.com/slog/archives/2012/02/28/are-our-taxes-too-high/
original source - District of Columbia, Officers of Chief Financial Officier http://cfo.dc.gov/cfo/frames.asp?doc=/cfo/lib/cfo/10study.pdf

Posted Mon, Sep 17, 11:36 a.m. Inappropriate

This DC study Steve touts contains some funny numbers. Guess what – it also appears to contain lowball estimated tax impact numbers for the sales taxes around here.

This seems to be a pattern – Steve likes the studies that understate the impact of our state’s REALLY high regressive taxing structure.

Here’s a 2008 Seattle Times chart saying the median family around here earns about $65,000 per year and in 2008 was paying about $250 per year for each 1% of sales tax:

http://seattletimes.com/flatpages/local/2008proposition1guide.html

The current sales tax rate around here is 9.5%, so that would mean the median family pays $2,375 in sales taxes (in 2008 dollars - the actual annual sales tax hit number is higher now, due to inflation).

However, this 2010 study out of DC Steve likes says that a family with an even higher ($75,000) income in Seattle only was paying $1,617 in sales taxes (the chart on page 10 of that DC paper has that figure).

Anyone want to try explaining why that DC study appears to underestimate by a significant amount the actual impact on households of the high sales taxes here in Seattle?

crossrip

Posted Sat, Oct 20, 9:15 p.m. Inappropriate

Unfortunately the Seattle Times article does not give the source of its data of what a median family pays in sales tax. And I see no information as to what a "median family" is so it is impossible compare the Seattle Times information with the DC study.
As noted above the previous difference was explained by looking at the methodology of the study by the Tax Foundation and so it is not "funny number" The DC study takes into account regressivity noting that the % of taxes paid by families increases as one's income decreases. This is due to the regressive nature of sales taxes.

Posted Mon, Sep 17, 10:58 a.m. Inappropriate


Tim Eyman is not the issue. He is the spokesman for easy fixes to difficult issues and his solution is supported by legislators, voters, and those wishing to avoid being challenged in the rough and tumble of the legislative process.

Legislators like it because they can avoid tough votes. The people said! We work for the people! The people like it because the legislators are our "servants" and "we don't like taxes." So every two years we send "them" a message and then complain about the lack of school funding. Easy! And the initiative creators like it because it avoids the need to make the case in a forum where the proposals they support might be tested.

The concept of majority rule and legislative responsibility is lost through the initiative process. Instead of the exceptional case which it was intended to be, through the advent of paid signature gatherers and mass media it is the norm. Frame the initiative's message correctly, pay the signature gatherer's the requisite millions, spend more millions on television, and you win!

Tragic. Pogo was right: "We have met the enemy and he is us."

Posted Fri, Sep 21, 12:18 p.m. Inappropriate

Pretty funny to watch today's fake "progressives" oppose the initiative process that yesterday's real Progressives invented. Speaks volumes.

NotFan

Posted Sat, Oct 20, 9:33 p.m. Inappropriate

Progressives oppose an initiative process where money dominates the outcome. Initiatives were seen as a solution to overcome money in the Legislative process - where citizens had an alternative. These days the same wealthy interests can now buy their way onto the ballot and dominate the public dialogue by overwhelming opponents with paid media.
In 2011 Costco spent $20,115,326 on I-1183 to privatize liquor sales. In 2010 the beverage and candy industry spent $16,042,629 to end a temporary sales tax on candy and soda. These are no longer citizen initiatives but corporate initiatives.
I-1185 is a corporate initiative. It was put on the ballot by BIG OIL and BEER interests who spent over $1 million to buy a place on the ballot. So much for citizen initiatives. I-1185 is really a Corporate Tax Loophole Protection Act. It allows only 17 Senators to decide out of 147 legislators any revenue bill, including whether or not to repeal out of date tax loopholes.

Posted Mon, Sep 17, 1:35 p.m. Inappropriate

When the Supreme Court rules that the two-thirds requirement is unconstitutional, some supporters like Eyman will wish that a simple majority were the common standard for all legislative action. That's because there will be demands that the supermajority rule be explicitly stated in the constitution. But constitutional amendments of course require a supermajority of both houses to place an amendment on the ballot. Is that irony, or what?

Posted Tue, Sep 18, 10:57 p.m. Inappropriate

that is indeed funny

Posted Mon, Sep 17, 3:48 p.m. Inappropriate

Nice to see Steve Zemke,King County Democrats Central Committee, jumping to the defense of the former Democrat Washington State Transportation Director. Steve, you have been asked in the past and never responded, How much extra money have you sent to the Federal, State and local taxing agencies to make up for how much you are being under taxed? Lead by example Steve and if you can get your fellow Democrats to back their rhetoric with checks, we shouldn't have a problems with tax dollars around here, should we...Majority Rules?

Cameron

Posted Sat, Oct 20, 9:36 p.m. Inappropriate

Very funny, you want me to pay extra to support you. What a joke!

Posted Mon, Sep 17, 9:04 p.m. Inappropriate

I'm surprised. I was sure at least a few I-1185 supporters would make an argument that the initiative IS constitutional, in spite of the majority-rule language of Art. II, Sec. 22. Shucks, I would at least expect that from Mr. Eyman himself.

Instead, we hear nothing about the fundamental constitutional question. Except of course from people who read the constitution and apply its plain language to the issue at hand -- and conclude that when the Framers said majority rule is the constitutional standard, they meant exactly that.

Posted Tue, Sep 18, 10:57 p.m. Inappropriate

We's the argument that less state government makes us more healthy, more educated, or more economicaly productive?

Too many people assume that having a lower state-tax burden means we'd be better off, like Alaska, Mississipi or Nevada.

Posted Fri, Sep 21, 12:11 p.m. Inappropriate

Normally, I'd be against "supermajority" provisions. But I'm voting for I-1185 because it's so obvious that the Democrats really only have one goal in this state: to raise taxes. It's all they ever talk about, and it's turning me into a ticket splitter.

By the way, Mr. MacDonald, it's hard to believe you given that you headed the same state transportation department that gave the bum's rush to the two engineers who came up with an $800 million viaduct repair. To me, that was Exhibit A for the case that, at every level, the powers that be in this state have absolutely no interest in conserving scarce taxpayer funds.

NotFan

Posted Sat, Oct 20, 9:49 p.m. Inappropriate

The goal is to adequately fund basic services like educating our kids. When tax exemptions can be passed by a simple majority but under Eyman's initiative they require a 2/3 vote to repeal that is not right. If we have budget shortfalls all expenditures should be considered for reducing.
Tax exemptions basically reduce taxes for some special interest. If the exemption is not there then that money is available to spend on something else. Unfortunately reducing expenditures in the budget requires a vote and if education only takes a majority vote to cut but a tax exemption (expenditure)takes a 2/3 vote to cut, its education that gets cut. Tax exemptions need to be considered for cutting the same as any other budget item when funds are not available. I-1185 prevents that and that's why I-1185 is a Tax Loophole Protection Act.

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