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News / Politics / Election

Washington voters favor anti-tax initiatives — for now

More than 40% of voters told the Cascade PBS/Elway Poll they would like to repeal WA’s new capital gains tax as well as its carbon cap-and-invest system.

By Donna Gordon Blankinship, Crosscut
Published: May 23, 2024, 2:21pm
2 Photos
Members of the House convene on the first day of the legislative session at the Washington state Capitol, Monday, Jan. 8, 2024, in Olympia.
Members of the House convene on the first day of the legislative session at the Washington state Capitol, Monday, Jan. 8, 2024, in Olympia. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson) Photo Gallery

The three tax initiatives destined for Washington’s November ballot are popular with voters, according to the results of a new Cascade PBS/Elway Poll.

None of the proposals – to repeal the capital gains tax, to kill the cap-and-invest carbon pricing system, and to make the long-term care insurance program optional – gathered support from a majority of voters in the May 13-16 poll. But two of them got pretty close.

Of the voters polled on the language of the three initiatives funded by hedge fund CEO Brian Heywood, 41% said they would likely vote yes to prohibit state agencies from imposing any type of carbon tax program, 31% would vote no (to keep the cap-and-invest program) and 28% said they were undecided. Those numbers changed slightly – 43% to repeal, 34% to keep the program and 23% undecided – when the poll asked a second question that explained some pro and con arguments for each position.

Asked about the capital gains tax, 47% said they would vote yes to repeal, 36% would vote no, and 17% were undecided. Asked again after the poll outlined some pros and cons, only 40% of voters were in favor of the initiative, 41% wanted to keep the new tax and 19% were undecided.

Of the voters polled on the state’s new long-term care insurance program, 47% said they wanted to repeal it, 25% were against the initiative and 28% were undecided. The numbers were mostly the same after the pro and con arguments were offered, with 45% for, 27% against and 27% undecided.

Pollster Stuart Elway notes that it’s very difficult to predict how people will vote on initiatives six months before an election, but history gives him some clues.

“Most initiatives, not all of them, tend to poll well at the beginning of the cycle and lose ground over the campaign,” Elway said. “I would expect these numbers to shift.”

This latest Cascade PBS/Elway Poll surveyed 403 registered voters statewide by land line, cell phone and via text to online survey. The poll has a 5% margin of error with a 95% level of confidence, which means if the survey had been repeated 100 times, the results would be within five percentage points of these results at least 95% of the time.

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One of the things you can’t tell from these results is whether voters understand that a vote for the initiatives would actually be a vote against these taxes. Voters can easily be confused by initiatives to repeal earlier legislation because a yes vote is actually a rejection instead of an affirmation. And the campaigns for and against the proposals are just beginning, so feelings may change as people learn more about the potential impact of their vote.

Patricia Kienholz, a Republican voter from Spokane who participated in the poll, said she has not decided how to vote on the initiatives because she hasn’t yet done her homework. Although she only votes for Republican candidates, she is more flexible about tax policy.

“I’m not opposed to all tax increases. It just depends on what it is,” Kienholz said, noting that she is particularly ambivalent on the capital gains tax. She raised two children as a single mom and benefited from some state programs, so she understands the need to fund the state government.

“I’m a Republican, but I’m a social scientist. I recognize the validity of social support and entitlements,” she said.

This early polling, six months before the election, will likely make supporters of the new taxes and many in the state Legislature nervous. The state’s new cap-and-invest system has brought more than $2 billion into the state budget since the first auction in February 2023, and the capital gains tax fed another $890 million to the budget during its first year in 2023.

The Legislature, which is required to spend most cap-and-invest income on environmental initiatives, has allocated some of the money toward buying electric school buses, helping utilities transition to cleaner energy, building hybrid electric ferries and giving some utility customers a rebate.

The first $500 million collected from the capital gains tax each year is reserved for a state fund that pays for K-12 education and child care programs. The additional dollars are then expected to go into a state account that pays for school construction.

Washington’s long-term care insurance program, WA Cares, has been somewhat unpopular since its inception. The program provides eligible Washingtonians with up to $36,500 per person, per lifetime to help pay for nursing care and other services they may need as they age. But many workers have opted out of the 0.58% tax on their paychecks since the program went into effect in July 2023. Supporters say making the program entirely optional may kill it, as the insurance business model depends on contributors to share the cost of outlays.

Crosscut is a service of Cascade Public Media, a nonprofit, public media organization. Visit crosscut.com/donate to support nonprofit, freely distributed, local journalism.
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