The general election vote on Initiative 1185 won't be the last word on whether any Washington tax increase needs a two-third majority in the Legislature.
The final word may come from the Washington Supreme Court. Or it may not.
This is the political issue that won't die. In fact, it has been born, dodged a bullet, got killed, got reborn, and now simultaneously faces another bullet and another potential rebirth — all in the past five years. And there's no guarantee this cycle will stop in the near future.
This is the latest chapter in a clash between those on on the liberal side who believe the Legislature should need only a simple majority to raise taxes and close tax exemptions, and those on the conservative, tax-skittish side who believe a two-thirds majority should be needed to do so. The two-thirds requirement is the status quo, although that could change if the initiative fails in the Nov. 6 vote or the state Supreme Court rules against limiting legislative taxing powers through the initiative process.
To Washington's initiative king Tim Eyman and Republican legislators, the two-thirds requirement serves as an extra safeguard against a Democrat-dominated Legislature increasing taxes and closing tax exemptions. "We want raising taxes to be absolutely the last resort," Eyman said. " I-1185 is sort of an insurance policy."
However, Rep. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, an attorney who helped map out the legal challenge to the two-thirds majority requirement now pending before the state Supreme Court, argued that one-third of one legislative chamber can stop the majority from trying to fix many of the state's problems. In an interview, he said that when state voters approve the two-thirds majority in two initiatives in the past, they were not told which state programs — such as education, colleges or health care — face budget cuts.
Pedersen noted that Washington's voters have already passed initiatives to provide training for some health workers and to reduce elementary school classes sizes, which, coincidentally, is an expensive measure that the Washington Supreme Court also ordered the state to carry out in a ruling several months ago.
Both Eyman and Pedersen point to the 2010 legislative session — the only recent session in which the two-thirds majority was not in effect — as the best clue of how the House and Senate would if behave if only a simple majority is need to raise taxes. No broad tax increases occurred in 2010. But the Legislature added taxes to beer (28 cents per six-pack) , soda (2 cents on 12 ounces), candy, bottled water, some service businesses, and some banks and credit-card firms. That same year, the American Beverage Association spent roughly $16 million to successfully convince voters in a public referendum to repeal the soda and candy tax increases.
Eyman interprets the 2010 tax increases at the Legislature running amok without the two-thirds majority rule. "They're just like Pavlovian dogs. They heard the dinner bell and started to drool," he said.
In contrast, Pedersen pictures the 2010 tax measures as legislators cautiously installing a few limited increases that a simple majority would actually support. "We fiddled around the margins. That's what we had the votes to do," Pedersen said.
Pedersen noted that state Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle tried unsuccessfully this year to put time limits on tax exemptions, which would have require them to be reviewed to see if they still meet their original purposes before renewal. With the supermajority requirement in effect, that bill did not survive the one-third-plus Republican opposition. Pedersen speculated that proposal could be revived if the two-thirds-majority requirement disappears.
So far, Washingtonians have not seen any ads pro or con on the issue. Eyman raised $1.3 million for I-1185, which he said all went to collecting signatures to put the proposal on the ballot. That figure includes $400,000 from the Washington, D.C.-based Beer Institute, $210,000 from oil companies BP Oil and Conoco-Phillips, and $45,500 from the Association of Washington Businesses. Meanwhile, opponents raised $65,570 with labor groups providing the biggest chunks, according to Washington Public Disclosure Commission figures.
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