WA Voters Make Tax Increases Difficult

November 7, 2012

By Seattle Times Editorial

Once again the voters of Washington have returned a Legislature dominated by Democrats, the party that leans toward more state spending and taxes. In the same election, they passed Tim Eyman’s measure to continue making tax increases difficult.

The measure was Initiative 1185, which requires two-thirds of both houses of the Legislature or simple majorities in the Legislature plus a vote of the people to increase taxes. The measure is passing with more than 60 percent. It is doing better than same-sex marriage, charter schools or marijuana. It is winning in all 39 counties, which cannot be said of any Democrat.

To pound in the message, in the two advisory votes on taxes, state voters said tax increases the Legislature already imposed on oil companies and banks “should be repealed.” And in Pierce County, voters approved a measure requiring approval of five-sevenths of the County Council to adopt new taxes.

What is the message of all this? Voters are reluctant to pay more, directly or indirectly. Unless the Democratic and Republican caucuses agree on a tax — that is what the two-thirds would require — the voters want the tax put to the people. They are clear about that. They enacted a two-thirds rule four times statewide in the past 20 years, and they have done it again. They mean it.

At the same time, most voters want budgeting to be done by Democrats, the party that defends government programs. Voters have also said this many times before. They like the programs.

This is not a clear sound of hurrah for either party. It is a mixed message.

Heeding this message is made more difficult by the Washington Supreme Court’s decision in the McCleary case, which ordered more state support for schools. But budgeting is legislators’ job. With I-1185 they still have choices — just more painful ones.

And the high court may change everything. It is considering a case arguing that a two-thirds-for-taxes initiative is unconstitutional. If the court ignores the will of 64 percent of voters and agrees, legislators will be legally free to raise taxes with simple majorities of their own.

If they do this, they will hear from voters — again.

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