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Tuesday, May 30, 2023
May 30, 2023

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In Our View: Advisory votes waste taxpayer money

The Columbian

Once again, voters in Clark County and throughout the state are being asked to weigh in with advisory votes regarding tax increases approved by the Legislature. Once again, these votes will be meaningless. As the Voters’ Pamphlet explains in large type: “Advisory votes are non-binding. The results will not change the law.”

Because of that, The Columbian’s Editorial Board will not be making a recommendation for the three advisory votes on the November ballot. But we will take a look at the advisory votes and why voters are faced with this pointless exercise.

Advisory votes are a remnant of Initiative 960, which was passed in 2007. The initiative was sponsored by anti-tax maven Tim Eyman, and its primary purpose was to require a two-thirds vote in the Legislature to increase taxes and fees.

The tax portion of the initiative was partially repealed by the Legislature in 2010, and the measure was ruled unconstitutional in 2013. The tax limitation was thrown out; the advisory votes remained.

So, voters now are asked about tax increases in loaded language that serves as little more than propaganda and ignores the fact that our system of government is a representative democracy.

For example, Advisory Vote No. 37 on this year’s ballot reads: “The legislature imposed, without a vote of the people, a 7% tax on capital gains in excess of $250,000, with exceptions, costing $5,736,000,000 in its first ten years, for government spending.” It then asks whether the tax increase should be repealed or maintained; nowhere on the ballot does it explain that the vote is not binding.

No, the people did not vote on the capital gains tax. They elected the legislators who approved the tax, and they will be asked next year or in 2024 whether they wish to return those legislators to Olympia. That is representative democracy.

In addition, the language of the advisory votes — which is set by statute — is prejudicial. There is no explanation for the “exceptions” included in the law; no reason to say the measure is “costing” rather than “raising” money for government spending; and no logical reason to include how much money would be raised over 10 years rather than one or two or five — other than to influence voters. These are not advisory votes; they are push polls.

The capital gains tax might be ruled unconstitutional by the courts. But the results of an advisory vote will have no impact on that outcome.

And the guess here is that no legislator will have his or her feelings about the tax influenced by a nonbinding advisory vote. Calling or emailing your local representative will have more influence than the meaningless gesture of a nonbinding vote.

Meanwhile, the impotent advisory votes help to clutter the ballot and cost taxpayers. This year’s advisory votes are the only statewide items in front of voters, requiring a state Voters’ Pamphlet that otherwise would be unnecessary.

In other words, Washington can do better.

Senate Bill 5182, introduced this year, would replace advisory votes with information in the Voters’ Pamphlet about the Legislature’s fiscal decisions. As state Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue, and sponsor of the bill, writes about advisory votes: “It’s a waste of taxpayer dollars that’s designed to instill distrust and cynicism in government and the decisions made by elected leaders.”

We agree. Which leads to our only recommendation about non-binding advisory votes: Let’s get rid of them.