Income tax opponents, Eyman triumphed together

And both rose to victory on the inability of the legislature to do almost anything by a two-thirds majority.

And both rose to victory on the inability of the legislature to do almost anything by a two-thirds majority.

The people who fought — successfully, as it turns out — to defeat the income tax initiative, I-1098, were offended if you compared them to initiative king Tim Eyman. But now, it turns out, their two campaigns were joined at the hip: not only in their basic messages — don't trust the legislature — but also in their electoral appeal, and, evidently, in Eyman's mind.

The early returns show 1098 losing and Eyman's 1053 winning by virtually identical 2-to-1 margins, with the former behind and the latter ahead in every county of the state. Presumably, the same voters said “no” to one and “yes” to the other, and presumably they did so for similar reasons.

Eyman's victory message sounded as if he had been a leader of the anti-1098 pack: He was glad that the voters “rejected the argument that the business community and successful people are the enemy. Divisive efforts to demonize them backfired. They are allies, not enemies. They are heroes, not villains. They are the job creators who provide the fuel for our economy's growth. They are role models who deserve a pat on the shoulder, not a knife in the back.” By rejecting 1098 and approving 1053 (and 1107, which repealed soda and candy taxes), Eyman said, voters “rejected the ugly politics of envy, resentment, and class warfare.”

Looking at results around the country, it's hard to argue that voters rejected the politics of resentment. But they certainly rejected “government.” Even Speaker-to-be John Boehner, in his victory speech, talked as if he he had just risen angrily from some prairie cornfield to take on the Establishment, not acknowledging that he was an incumbent congressman first elected in 1990.

Under the circumstances, it's hard to see how 1098 could possibly have won this year, or how 1053 could have possibly lost. There's not much point in Monday morning quarterbacking; tweaking personnel or tactics wouldn't have mattered.

Actually, it's hard to see 1053 losing in any year. This is the third time Washington voters have said that the legislature shouldn't be able to raise taxes without two-thirds votes in both houses. They did it first back in 1993 — before anyone had heard of Tim Eyman (although not before John Boehner was already serving in the House) — with Initiative 601. That was just one year before Newt Gingrich and the Republicans took over Congress in the name of their “contract with America.” It was the same year Washington voters approved the nation's first “3 strikes you're out” law, and the year after they approved term limits (which were quickly tossed out by the courts).

The leigslature reaffirmed the two-thirds principle a couple of times, but also found ways around it, and three years ago, the people reaffirmed it themselves with Eyman's I-960. The legislature suspended the two-thirds rule this year, though, so Eyman and his backers came back with 1053.

The initiative's pseudo-populist appeal doesn't seem to have suffered from the backing of the state's big oil refiners. Earlier this year, the legislature almost passed a bill that would have raised the tax on petroleum and other hazardous substances to pay for stormwater projects around the state. The refiners evidently wanted to make sure the legislation didn't do better this time. They succeeded.

If oil company backing didn't hurt 1053, it's hard to believe that union backing hurt 1098. It would have been hard to dream up a more attractive spokesman for 1098 than Bill Gates, Sr.  It's also hard to believe that altering the substance of the initiative would have helped. Making the proposal revenue-neutral or using money generated by an income tax to reduce the sales tax, as the Gates Committee recommended in 2002, wouldn't have undercut the opponents' main arguments: The legislature could still have altered the law after two years. And, faced with the prospect of paying state taxes on their incomes, some entrepreneurs might still have taken their money to Nevada or Texas.

The only way to prevent the legislature from amending the law is, of course, to amend the constitution. But that would require a two-thirds vote of the legislature, which nobody considers plausible.

That is, of course, the whole point of 1053: You're not going to get two-thirds for anything of substance. A two-thirds voting requirement is a recipe for gridlock. But a majority of the people seems to want — or think it wants — legislative gridlock. Get government out of the way. Let private enterprise drive the economy off a cliff again.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Daniel Jack Chasan

Daniel Jack Chasan

Daniel Jack Chasan is an author, attorney, and writer of many articles about Northwest environmental issues.