Yes on I-1053

Two-thirds approval for tax increases is necessary for low-performing Legislature

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One of the most frequent but misleading indictments of Initiative 1053 is that it will make our state more like California. I-1053 on the Nov. 2 ballot would require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to increase taxes. Opponents of the ballot measure insist that similar restrictions have led to the fiscal chaos that currently afflicts California.

This incorrectly implies that Washington state would venture for the first time down the two-thirds-requirement path if I-1053 is approved. History quickly contradicts that point. As I-1053’s proponents have written, the two-thirds requirement has been intermittently applied in our Legislature since 1993. “In those 17 years, during legislative session when it’s been in effect, tax hikes were a last resort resulting in more reform and fewer taxes. When Olympia suspends it (like this year), tax increases become a first resort with less reform and much higher taxes,” I-1053’s supporters write in the Online Voters Guide.

We’re not sure about the “first resort” part, but there is no doubt that (1) the Democrat-led Legislature this year rushed to suspend the two-thirds requirement of Initiative 960 of 2007; (2) revenue was raised this year by almost $800 million, largely through tax increases, and (3) little to no effort was made to reform government.

Those three realities lead The Columbian to recommend a “Yes” vote on Initiative 1053. (Ballots will be mailed on Oct. 13.) We do so because legislators have abdicated their responsibility to reform ways in which government services and programs are delivered. Instead of resetting government and making it more efficient, lawmakers have lazily resorted to hackneyed budget solutions that are obsolete in this, the greatest economic crisis in seven decades. Democrats, especially, in the Legislature have only talked about reform, while at the same time refusing to make unionized state workers share in the same recession-related burdens that private-sector workers have incurred.

Thus, we are driven to this editorial stance by the legislators’ refusal to perform, their unwillingness to step up to the plate and proffer innovative strategies to deal with record deficits. Perhaps if their tax-increasing tendencies are stifled by passage of I-1053 they will turn in desperation to reform and solid strategies for cost control.

Our endorsement of Initiative 1053 is different from two previous editorial stances on related issues:

We supported removal of the supermajority requirement for school bond issues because we believed — and still do — that 41 percent of taxpayers should not be able to tell 59 percent of taxpayers that they cannot build new schools. Initiative 1053, though, is different. Our position now is rooted in politicians’ obdurate unwillingness to manage money wisely. Another significant difference in these two ballot measures is that I-1053 is written so that tax increases can be sent to the people for majority approval. That condition didn’t exist with the supermajority in school bond issues.

Three years ago we opposed Initiative 960 (another two-thirds requirement for tax increases) on the grounds that legislators should be allowed to do their jobs and be held accountable in subsequent elections. Much has changed in those three years. The Legislature has failed so miserably in multiple budget crises that we now believe a strong message should be sent: Forget tax increases during a recession. I-1053 delivers that message.

We acknowledge that lawmakers can modify or suspend an initiative after two years. That doesn’t matter. If their performance doesn’t improve and this same message must be repeated in two years, so be it.

The Columbian presents a pro-con package dealing with Initiative 1053 here and here.