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November 21, 2013 at 11:57 AM

In defense of Washington’s tax-advisory votes

(William Brown / Tribune Media Services)

(William Brown / Tribune Media Services)

Washington’s tax advisory votes, which were on the November ballot, are under attack in Olympia. The House Government Operations & Elections Committee is having a work session at 10 a.m., Nov. 22. The chairman of the committee is Rep. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, a regular opponent of the activist who created those votes—Tim Eyman.

If I were testifying about the advisory votes, here is what I would say:

The votes were part—a minor part—of two state ballot initiatives sponsored by Eyman and passed overwhelmingly by the people of Washington: Initiative 960 and Initiative 1185. The major part of those initiatives was the requirement that raising taxes required a two-thirds vote of both houses of the Legislature or a vote of the people. Some Democrats challenged the two-thirds rule at the Washington Supreme Court, and they won. The court said the rules for passing a tax increase are set out in the state constitution, and in Washington we can’t amend the constitution by initiative.

All that’s left of 960 and 1185 are the advisory votes. Now they want to take them away too.

I understand why. The advisory votes include a list in the Voter’s Pamphlet of the legislators and how they voted on each of the tax increases. Eyman’s purpose was to embarrass legislators who had voted to raise taxes. They don’t like being embarrassed.

Legislators say the information is incomplete because it doesn’t say why they voted as they did. Their solution is to have no information.

They say the cost of putting the tax-advisory matter in the Voter’s Pamphlet, $130,000 statewide, is a waste of taxpayer money. This concern about public expenditure is coming from legislators who want not to be embarrassed when they raise taxes so they can spend hundreds of millions more of the taxpayer’s money.

In a budget of $17 billion a year, $130,000 is a mosquito’s sneeze. It works out to 3 cents for each citizen who voted in the 2012 elections, and it reaches every voter in the state. To argue that eliminating this expenditure is protecting the taxpayers is baldly disingenuous.

If legislators object that the advisory votes are “pointless” because they don’t do anything, then they can propose a constitutional amendment to change that. If such an amendment were on the ballot it would pass easily.

I dare them to try it.

A final note. On Sept. 30, Hunt was in an editorial board meeting at The Times, in opposition to Eyman’s Initiative 517, which failed. Hunt objected to the way 517 would have opened up public places to signature gatherers, and how it would have extended the time for signature gathering. He had an argument about those things, and it apparently convinced the voters. But Hunt did not object to 517’s most popular provision, which was that a local initiative with enough valid signatures to get on the ballot should be put there, and not be subject to pre-election lawsuits.

“We could deal with those issues in the Legislature next year,” Hunt said.

Next year is coming up, there will be a bill to do just that. Let’s see if Hunt supports it.

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