The winds of change | Editorial

They say timing is everything. One of Tim Eyman’s new initiatives is a perfect example. Initiative 1053 would require a two-thirds majority vote by the state Legislature in order to raise taxes. When a similar initiative went to the voters in the form of I-960 three years ago, it was defeated after a flurry of protests from a host of business organizations, political and economic experts. Now it seems that the wind has shifted.

I-1053 concerns tax and fee increases imposed by state government. It says:

“This measure would restate the existing statutory requirement that any action or combination of actions by the Legislature that raises taxes must be approved by a two-thirds vote in both houses of the Legislature or approved in a referendum to the people, and it would restate the existing statutory definition of ‘raises taxes.’ It would also restate that new or increased fees must be approved by a majority vote in both houses of the Legislature.”

Some imply that the measure should be imposed to “punish” the Legislature for imposing more taxes and spending more money. Those who support 1053 say that increasing taxes any further will harm both businesses and consumers. They say that increasing taxes during a recession is counterintuitive.

A recent editorial printed in the Vancouver Columbian described the shift. “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.”

However, there are other issues to consider. The two-thirds rule will not only make it more difficult to initiate any needed taxes, but will add layers to the process of passing each bill. Yet as many others have pointed out, raising taxes must be a last resort after every other means of reducing spending has been exhausted.

This writer is all for keeping taxes low and finding ways to save money first rather than finding more. But the two-thirds majority piece is a tougher sell. It is difficult to ignore the implications that this may have on the workings of our state constitution and majority rule. Constraining any further the ability of lawmakers to do what needs to be done also seems ill-advised.

An editorial from the Tacoma News Tribune said it well.

“Lawmakers have not done enough to restructure and downsize state government. But as much as voters should press lawmakers to trim state spending, the Legislature also needs some latitude to protect core social services. The hole in the next state budget is $4.5 billion and growing; it is not a foregone conclusion that lawmakers will be able to balance the books on cuts alone ... The majority could go directly to the voters for approval — at the risk of waiting months for a budget patch that may never materialize. The Legislature, given the magnitude of the state’s fiscal problems, needs to act more nimbly than that.”

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