We can appreciate the frustration Washington voters must be experiencing. Five times they have supported a requirement of a two-thirds legislative majority in order to pass tax increases — a move born of a belief that state government doesn’t give a hoot about restraining taxes — and five times they have been overturned by either the Legislature or the courts.
Such is the background to Initiative 1366, the latest effort from initiative activist Tim Eyman to establish a supermajority requirement for tax increases. While I-1366 takes a new approach, and while it will appeal to many voters, it represents a misguided manner for addressing the issue. The Columbian’s Editorial Board recommends that voters reject Initiative 1366 on the November ballot.
As always, this is merely a recommendation. The Editorial Board trusts the ability of voters to examine the complicated issue, and we suggest a viewing of the board’s interview with a proponent and an opponent of I-1366.
The genesis for Eyman’s latest effort can be found in his previous one. After voters once again approved a two-thirds majority, the state Supreme Court in 2013 ruled that ballot measure unconstitutional because the state Constitution specifies a need for only a majority vote. That is where I-1366 takes a new approach — and where it gets complicated. The initiative would require lawmakers to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot to establish a two-thirds majority; if they fail to do so, the state sales tax would be reduced from 6.5 percent to 5.5 percent.
The cut in the sales tax, while again sounding appealing, would result in a reduction of about $8 billion in revenue over five years. This would come at a time when the Legislature is being held in contempt for not devising a plan to adequately fund public education. Lawmakers provided an additional $1.3 billion for education during this year’s session, but leaders from both parties suggest that another $3.5 billion is required. The state also is facing court-mandated improvements to its mental health system.
While voters are likely to take a jaundiced view of assertions that the state needs more money, Initiative 1366 would make it nearly impossible for government to effectively address the needs of the people. Combining the reduction in state revenue and the court-ordered increase to education funding would require more than $11 billion in cuts to other programs, damaging the state’s ability to provide social programs, public health programs and other services. It also would place the Legislature in a position where it can be held hostage by a minority of lawmakers. As Sam Reed, a former Republican Secretary of State, said: “This measure would empower those hard-core ideologues on each side, either the right wing or the left wing, because all they’ve got to do is get a third to block something.”
Those are the ideological reasons for opposing I-1366. The practical ones are equally compelling, as it is possible that the measure would not pass judicial scrutiny. Eyman, who is under investigation for allegedly misusing campaign funds related to previous measures, acknowledges that I-1366 might not pass constitutional muster but says that it still would send a message to lawmakers.
Unfortunately, I-1366 is not the way to deliver that message. The easiest way to rectify the situation — of course — would be for state government to get its act together. But in lieu of that, we must vote out those who can’t figure out a way to prioritize the state’s needs in a way that won’t bankrupt citizens.