Evan Smith on Politics: Advisory Vote provision survived Supreme Court Decision against 2/3rds requirements

Saturday, April 6, 2013

When the State Supreme Court overturned the voter-approved requirement for a two-thirds vote in the Legislature to raise taxes, it left intact a provision of the same initiative that requires a statewide advisory vote on any tax increase, even with a two-thirds supermajority in both houses of the legislature.

Last year, the legislature, then operating under the two-thirds rule, eliminated two tax preferences. One eliminated a tax exemption for large, out-of-state banks. The other eliminated a tax preference for oil refineries. Both appeared on the ballot as advisory votes, with the question, "Should this tax be maintained or rejected?"

Both appeared in the state voters' pamphlet with the no explanatory statements and no pro- and con- arguments but with names, districts and contact information for legislators who had voted for the bill.

State Elections Co-Director Katie Blinn said at the time that the extra printing on ballots and in voters' pamphlets cost the State $120,000, but initiative sponsor Tim Eyman said at the time that it is worth the money to give voters information and a voice on tax measures.

Voters overwhelmingly rejected both measures.

Democratic 32nd District State Rep. Ruth Kagi and Democratic 46th District State Sen. David Frockt said at the time that voters may have been confused over whether they were voting to approve a tax exemption or to approve removal of a tax exemption, but Eyman said that voters were expressing clear opposition to any tax increase.

Eyman said recently that the measure did not include provisions for explanatory statements and pro-con statements in the voters' pamphlet because, “It was important that they not resemble a referendum in any way.” Referenda, unlike advisory votes, have the force of law.

Any tax measure that passes the legislature this year would require the statewide advisory votes. That would include any proposed elimination of tax preferences.

When Gov. Jay Inslee recently proposed a package of elimination of more tax preferences and extensions of temporary taxes, Eyman noted that if the legislature passes any of these measures, voters would have a chance to vote on them. He said that the legislature could save taxpayers’ money by rejecting all of them.


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