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Thursday, December 7, 2023
Dec. 7, 2023

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Eyman initiative focus of debate

Backer: tax question about choice; foe calls it 'blackmail'

By , Columbian Transportation & Environment Reporter

One person calls it a choice. Another calls it “blackmail.”

Clearly, supporters and opponents of state Initiative 1366 see the proposal very differently. Two local voices made their case for and against the Tim Eyman-sponsored measure during a meeting with The Columbian’s editorial board on Friday.

I-1366, which will appear on next month’s ballot statewide, would lower the state sales tax from 6.5 percent to 5.5 percent — unless the Legislature refers to voters a constitutional amendment requiring two-thirds legislative approval or voter approval to raise taxes, according to the ballot language. If it took effect, the tax-cut element of the measure would reduce state revenue by roughly $1 billion per year.

State Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, said the Legislature would likely choose to refer the constitutional amendment to voters rather than swallow the sales tax cut if the initiative passes. Citizens have repeatedly supported a two-thirds majority requirement for raising taxes in the Legislature, he said, and they deserve it.

“It should be hard to do certain things,” Orcutt told the editorial board. “And taxes are one of the things that it should be hard to do.”

Rob Lutz, president of the Evergreen Education Association in Vancouver, likened the measure to blackmail: “Do this, or suffer the consequences.” The measure gets the process essentially backward by putting a constitutional amendment in the hands of voters before state lawmakers, Lutz said.

As for the two-thirds requirement, such a threshold would basically allow 17 people — slightly more than one-third of the 49-member state Senate — to prevent any tax increase from happening, Lutz said, even if it benefits the state.

Past attempts to create a two-thirds threshold for raising taxes in the Legislature have been thwarted by court rulings or by lawmakers themselves. The most recent effort, another Eyman initiative that voters overwhelmingly approved in 2012, was declared unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court in 2013.

The initiative process allows citizens to do what the Legislature will not, Orcutt said. Despite five votes going back to the 1993, lawmakers still have not created a two-thirds majority requirement for raising taxes, he said.

“This is something that the citizens have embraced for 22 years,” Orcutt said.

Lutz noted that Washington is currently under immense pressure to fund education due to a state Supreme Court decision known as McCleary. Earlier this year, the court imposed daily fines to go along with a contempt order against lawmakers for failing to adequately fund education.

“We were in a different situation in the past,” Lutz said.

In Clark County, most ballots for the Nov. 3 election will be mailed out starting Oct. 16.

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