Category Archives: Economy

Most Americans Don’t Share in Growing Economy

The main reason voters gave for their voting as they did in the Nov 2014 election was the economy as it affected them. Despite job growth going up and unemployment going down and the stock market going up and GDP increasing, most Americans were not sharing in the economy doing better.

As Steve Rattner points out in a New York Times article entitled “Inequality Unbelievably, Gets Worse” :

 “Inflation-adjusted earnings of the bottom 90 percent of Americans fell between 2010 and 2013, with those near the bottom dropping the most. Meanwhile, incomes in the top decile rose.”

Democrats got blamed for the impacts of this growing income inequality in the US. Ironically conservative Republican policies rather than progressive Democratic  policies have exacerbated this inequality. Republicans did a better job of blaming people’s economic woes on Obama and deflected their own culpability and contribution in opposing things like repealing tax loopholes on big oil and other profitable corporations  and pushing for lowering taxes on the rich.

In charts presented in Rattner’s piece, he notes that because of the US’s relative low tax rate compared to that of other developed countries, less funds are available to help people in need of government assistance. The result is that the US ranks at the top as having the most inequality. Rattner says:

“That’s because our taxes, while progressive, are low by international standards and our social welfare programs — ranging from unemployment benefits to disability insurance to retirement payments — are consequently less generous.

Conservatives may bemoan the size of our government; in reality, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, total tax revenues in the United States this year will be smaller on a relative basis than those of any other member country.”

Democrats unfortunately did not talk about what they and Obama had been doing to help working families despite Republican opposition.  Again Rattner noted:

To his credit, President Obama has succeeded in keeping income disparities from growing even wider, by such measures as by forcing tax rates on the wealthiest Americans up toward fair levels.

Why Eyman’s 1/3 Constitutional Vote Proposal is Bad for Washington Taxpayers

`Tim Eyman is trying to convince voters that Washington State needs a constitutional amendment to allow 1/3 of the Legislators to decide issues regarding raising revenues in Washington state. He has  filed Initiative 1325 to try to force the legislature to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot by a coercive tactic of proposing to cut the state component of the state sales tax by 15% if they don’t. Eyman calls it a 2/3 vote measure but the reality is that it allows 1/3 of the Legislators to make budget decisions on raising revenue rather than a majority.

Eyman’s attempt to enact his  1/3 constitutional amendment is a repeat of the recent Republican extortionist  proposal regarding raising the debt limit  in Congress by shutting down government.   The 15% cut under Eyman’s measure if the Legislature doesn’t play by his rules would occur by reducing the current 6.5% state sales tax to 5.5%.  This would equal over a billion dollars a year. Of course to Eyman the one billion dollars has no significance, it is merely a tool to try to use as extortion to promote  his libertarian view that taxes and government can do no good and the more we cut them the better. Continue reading

Democrats and the Issues Facing our Nation – Do they Have the Answers?

Nation of Change in a post entitled Democrats Swipe Right Wing ‘Soundbite Magic’ offers the following as what Democrats will talk about in 2014:

“Democrats will bang the drum this year: 1) to keep government open, 2) raise the minimum wage (with midterm ballot propositions), 3) keep unemployment insurance going, however marginal, 4) defend to the death the sanctity of Medicare and Social Security, 5) urge immigration reform overdo for decades, and 6) take pot shots at the open Citizens United spigot. Most will gingerly endorse climate change and gay rights. This campaign only has to be bold enough to dramatize the rightwing contradiction of spending billions to get elected to government, then methodically gumming up the works to prove that government is the enemy.”

Left out is the relationship between the economy and jobs and income inequality. Andy Stern, speaking at Town Hall in Seattle on January 7, 2014 in a talk entitles “Innovation and the Future of Labor” presented a much more complex dialogue that is emerging and that progressives are talking about. What’s happening is that the “economy” is growing but growth in jobs and wages are not. The issue is not just raising the minimum wage, which is important, but in ensuring that all Americans share in the economic growth, not just the top 1% or 2%.

Stern noted that 11 million jobs were lost since 2008 and only 8 to 9 million have come back. And while GDP has gone up by 50% and profits have gone up 70%, wages have gone up only 4%. The profits have gone to the very wealthy at the top, not to the average wage earner. Since the recession started low wage jobs increased from 24% to a majority now.

Many factors have contributed to this but one Stern spent time discussing was the continued increase in the use of robots. The real emerging issue here is as there is less and less need for human labor how do you provide economic support to the masses of people who really can’t find work through no fault of their own. It is not because they are lazy and want to leech off the employed. Our nation is undergoing a real transition in the nature and composition of its workforce and citizens economic livelihood as a result.

Republicans are not addressing these issues at all, falling back on outdated moral righteousness outrage and blaming government overspending and placing blame for issues like unemployment on the victims. Democrats, while increasingly concerned about the profound changes occurring, need to also update their basic understanding of what is happening and work for solutions to address the new economic reality facing our society.

It is a challenge for all of us but we need to start finding solutions soon. Our economic reality of increased joblessness, decreased wages for most Americans despite economic growth, drastically growing income inequality, increased pressures on many citizens ability to meet basic human needs, and the loss of real opportunity and equality for most citizens to better their economic security is increasingly affecting the future of our nation and its citizens.

Tax Sanity Pushes for a Tax Expenditure Budget for Increased Accountability and Transparency

Tax Sanity has been busy drafting legislation to create a tax expenditure budget bill to increase transparency and accountability over Washington State’s ever growing tax exemptions.  The most recent special legislative session saw the Governor and the State Legislature push for additional tax breaks for Boeing, creating the largest state corporate tax break in the nation. As Reuters reported, “The Washington state legislature … passed a measure to extend nearly $9 billion in tax breaks for Boeing through 2040 in an embattled effort to entice the company to locate production of its newest jet, the 777X, in the Seattle area.”  And even it may not be enough to keep Boeing here as now a race to the bottom is occurring as other states compete to try to lure Boeing to their state.

Tax Sanity believes the continued push to create more and more tax exemptions is out of control.  There needs to be more accountability for results and more transparency in who is benefiting and who is losing. They propose doing this by requiring the legislature to create a tax expenditure budget detailing all the exemptions, their cost and who they benefit that the legislature has to adopt every two years as part of the general appropriations budget or exemption will expire.

Their latest draft which they are urging legislators to adopt has also been filed as an initiative to the legislature.  Initiative 626 has just received the following ballot title and summary:

Ballot Title
Initiative Measure No. 626 concerns taxes.

This measure would require new and existing discretionary tax preferences to be authorized every two years in a tax expenditure budget and repeal requirements for advisory votes of the people on tax increases.

Should this measure be enacted into law? Yes [ ] No [ ]

Ballot Measure Summary
This measure would require the legislature to approve new and existing discretionary tax preferences every two years, in a tax expenditure budget detailing the fiscal impact and purpose of each tax preference. The tax expenditure budget would be included in the biennial omnibus operating appropriations act. Tax preferences not included in the tax exemption budget would expire at the end of the fiscal year. The measure would repeal requirements for advisory votes on tax increases.

View Complete Text PDF

Washington State currently has over 650 tax exemptions.  While some are required by our State Constitution or the US Constitution or by Federal law, the discretionary ones still number over 400. They are usually described as either an exemption, exclusion or deduction from the base of a tax; a credit against a tax; a deferral of a tax or a preferential tax rate. They are all  off budget spending that once granted almost never is rescinded. Only 10% of them have sunset dates. They represent expenditures of tax dollars which if not exempted from collection would be available as state revenue to fund critical state needs like education or health care.

The magnitude of the situation is not clear to the general public. Yet last year the Washington State Department of Revenue in its once every four year report on tax exemptions listing the discretionary tax exemptions points out why they are more appropriately called tax expenditures.  This is what most other states call them.  They are revenue that is not collected from some taxpayers but is collected from others. They noted that while we collected some $6.5 billion in B&O tax revenue in the last biennium, we did not collect but “exempted” some $7.5 billion.  We collected less than half the B&O tax revenue  available if every business paid the same.

When the sales and use tax collection was added to the B&O tax collection, essentially the same net result occurred.  The state collected some $21 billion in revenue but excluded $20 billion from collection.  Tax exemptions continue to grow with the Legislature adding another 15 in the 2012 session.

The process is out of control. This is why Tax Sanity is urging the state legislature to let the public know the extent to which they are supporting tax expenditures, who is benefiting and how much they are receiving. No future legislature is bound by the actions of past legislatures. Legislators have a responsibility to use tax dollars wisely, including being judicious and wise in giving out tax breaks. The Legislature needs to be held accountable for the current out of control use of tax exemptions to benefit special interests and business while cutting public services like education and health care. Requiring them to adopt a tax expenditure budget every 2 years as part of the regular operating appropriations budget and end the shifting of state revenue to off budget spending that lacks accountability and transparency.

Let’s fix our unfair tax system in Washington State

Washington state’s tax system is broken. We have pressing state needs but do not fairly collect  revenue to adequately fund needed state public services like education and health care. We rank in the bottom third of states in raising revenue.  The Department of Revenue in January 2013 stated:

Washington ranked 36th from the top in state and local taxes paid per $1,000 of personal income in 2010, according to Census Bureau data published by the Washington State Department of Revenue.

At the same time we are ranked by the Institute on Taxation & Economic Policy as having the most regressive tax system in the country.

Washington State, which does not have an income tax, is the highest-tax state in the country for poor people. In fact, when all state and local sales, excise and property taxes are tallied up, Washington’s poor families pay 16.9 percent of their total income in state and local taxes.

Meanwhile the top 1% pay only 2.8% of their income in state and local taxes. This is a terribly unfair tax system that has shifted taxes onto those least able to pay.

Don Smith and I co-authored a MoveOn.org petition calling for the Washington State Legislature and Governor Inslee to pass legislation and funding to create a new Tax Reform Commission to study and recommend ways to fix our broken tax system.

We ask that you show your support for a new Tax Study Commission and the need for reforming our tax system by signing our petition. Add your name to the 3800 people  have already signed. Thanks.

Click on the headline directly below to sign the petition.

Let’s fix our unfair tax system in Washington State

Washington State has one of the most regressive tax systems in the country. In order to fix our broken, upside-down tax system, we first need to educate the public about the facts. But neither Governor Inslee nor the state legislators are making significant effort towards educating the public about why we need progressive taxation. We ask Governor Inslee to appoint a high level commission to evaluate our regressive tax system and propose changes that would allow the state to adequately fund education, social services and other essential needs. The commission should hold hearings throughout the state, solicit input from the public, and publicize its findings widely. We also call on Governor Inslee and the Democratic leadership to make speeches, publish essays, and hold public forums for discussion of this central issue.

Petition Background

In Washington State, the middle class and poor pay a higher percentage of their income in state taxes than do the rich, due to a reliance on the regressive sales tax to fund state government.

Even the Business and Occupation tax is regressive: it taxes revenue, not profit, and so it favors profitable corporations over struggling small businesses.

Another cause of unfairness is the existence of tax loopholes for certain wealthy corporations.

In fact, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, Washington State has the most regressive tax system in the nation. The poorest 20% of non-elderly Washingtonians pay 17% of their income in state taxes; the richest 1% pay under 3% of their income in state taxes. (Source: http://www.itep.org/pdf/wa.pdf .)

The state desperately needs a reliable source of funds to pay for education pursuant to the State Supreme Court decision in the McCleary case, which declares that the legislature is underfunding K-12 education.

Additionally, in recent years the state has had to slash funding for social services and for higher education, causing real suffering among vulnerable people, threatening our prosperity and safety, and drastically raising the cost of a college education.

Voters in 2010 rejected I-1098, the initiative to establish a high earners’ income tax in Washington State. Most voters were voting against their own self-interest, because only the richest 2% of citizens would have seen their taxes rise.

But up until now, only a few advocacy groups have spoken up about this issue. Our political leaders should make the effort to educate the public about all the ways we need government and about progressive taxation. In other words, our political leaders should actually lead and not just follow.

The proposed high level commission, hearings, speeches and essays will help move the state towards a sustainable and equitable funding model.

For discussion of this effort, please visit:
http://fairtaxesnow.us/
https://groups.google.com/d/forum/wafairtaxes

To see the list of signers and their comments, please visit: http://waliberals.org/WATaxFixers.html

Republicans in Congress Wage War on Poor by Opposing Raising the Minimum Wage

The Republican War on the Poor is evident in their continued opposition to raising the national minimum wage.  Like on many other issues they are out of tune with the American people.  Fully three quarters of the American people support raising the national minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $9.00 according to a Gallup poll released this week.  Almost as many support indexing it to inflation so the issue does not have to be raised every few years in Congress and held hostage to Republican obstructionism.

As Gallup notes:

Despite President Barack Obama’s State of the Union call to raise the wage to $9 — and widespread rallies populated mainly by hourly fast-food workers — legislation that would accomplish this goal has thus far languished. More recently, the Obama administration has voiced support for the Harkin-Miller bill, which would raise the minimum wage even higher — to $10.10.

Republicans in Congress have continued to support tax breaks for the wealthy and oppose raising taxes in general which has benefited the wealthy the most. At the same they are resolutely opposed to helping people on the bottom of the economic ladder. Republicans in the US House in March voted unanimously against raising the minimum wage to $10.10.

As the Huffington Post reported in March:

A proposal by Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour over the next two years and increase the wage for tipped employees to 70 percent of the minimum wage was defeated, with every House Republican voting against the motion. On the Democratic side, six lawmakers voted against the measure, and 184 Democrats voted for it.

Washington State’s minimum wage is currently the highest in the country at $9.19.  It is indexed to inflation and will increase to $9.32 next year.  It covers both retail workers and agricultural workers.  It has an exception for 14 and 15 year olds who can be paid at 85% of the minimum or $7.81 per hour.

Washington voters twice passed initiatives to raise the minimum wage in recent years.  The last time in 1998 they added a provision to index the minimum wage to inflation. That Initiative, Initiative 688, passed with a 66% yes vote.

Voters in SeaTac, Washington on the Nov 2013 ballot are passing a proposal to raise the city’s minimum wage to $15/hour. As of Nov 14 the measure is ahead by 52 votes. And it looks like if it wins, next up will be a court battle.

Vote “Maintain” on Five Eyman “Tax Advisory Votes”

The Washington State Ballot this November has five tax advisory votes which are very confusing to most people.

These tax advisory votes were put there by  Tim Eyman’s Initiative 960 as his attempt to increase public resentment to any “tax” measures even when they benefit the larger public. The ballot title for each is basically written as an  anti-tax push poll based on Eyman’s ballot title language in Initiative 960 that stipulated the ballot title wording.

They carry no Legislative weight as they only record  voters opinions. In essence they are like a public opinion poll paid for by taxpayers. But Eyman tries to use them to show public opposition to funding public services by wording them such that voters will be inclined to respond negatively to any tax increase. Under Eyman’s definition of tax increases he also includes any efforts by the Legislature to repeal any tax exemptions or tax expenditures even if they are tax loopholes that only benefit special interests and not the general public.

Deciphering the ballot title language is very tricky and confusing. It waspurposely written to try to get voters to vote to repeal any tax increase passed by the Legislature.   And unlike initiatives, the writeup on the so called tax advisory votes  in the voter’s pamphlet contain no explanatory statement, no pro and con statements, and no fiscal impact statement.

In fact the State Attorney General had no real ability to even try to fairly explain the issue in the ballot title since Eyman’s initiative 960 required that the ballot tile be written as:

The legislature imposed, without a vote of the people, (identification of tax and description of increase), costing (most up-to-date ten-year cost projection, expressed in dollars and rounded to the nearest million) in its first ten years, for government spending. This tax increase should be:
Repealed . . .[ ]
Maintained . . .[ ]

I have made bold the mandatory wording required which by itself is intended to encourage people to vote to repeal any “tax increase”.

Both Democrats and Republicans voted by wide margins in the Legislature to approve all 5 of these measures, including to repeal some tax exemptions and fix the inheritance tax exclusion set up by a court decision, to secure revenue to help fund the budget.

Voters should vote to “maintain” these legislative decisions.

Advisory Vote No. 3 (Substitute Senate Bill 5444)

Ballot Title

The legislature eliminated, without a vote of the people, a leasehold excise tax credit for taxpayers who lease publicly-owned property, costing approximately $2,000,000 in the first ten years, for government spending.

This tax increase should be:

[  ]  Repealed

[X  ]  Maintained

 

Advisory Vote No. 4 (Senate Bill 5627)

Ballot Title

The legislature imposed, without a vote of the people, an aircraft excise tax on commuter air carriers in lieu of property tax, costing approximately $500,000 in its first ten years, for government spending.

This tax increase should be:

Repealed   [  ]

Maintained   [ X ]

 

Advisory Vote No. 5 (Engrossed Substitute House Bill 1846)

Ballot Title

The legislature extended, without a vote of the people, the insurance premium tax to some insurance for pediatric oral services, costing an amount that cannot currently be estimated, for government spending.

This tax increase should be:

Repealed   [  ]

Maintained   [X  ]
Advisory Vote No. 6 (Second Engrossed Second Substitute House Bill 1971)

Ballot Title

The legislature eliminated, without a vote of the people, a retail sales tax exemption for certain telephone and telecommunications services, costing approximately $397,000,000 in the first ten years, for government spending.

This tax increase should be:

Repealed   [  ]

Maintained   [X  ]

 

Advisory Vote No. 7 (Engrossed House Bill 2075)

Ballot Title

The legislature extended, without a vote of the people, estate tax on certain property transfers and increased rates for estates over $4,000,000, costing approximately $478,000,000 in the first ten years, for government spending.

This tax increase should be:

Repealed   [  ]

Maintained   [X  ]

For additional information on these measures see the Washington State Voters Pamphlet which gives links to the actual bills passed by the Legislature. Click on the tab “full text” to read the original bill as passed by the Washington State Legislature.

You can also refer to the statement in the Progressive Voters Guide.

The Tax Advisory Vote requirement  in I-960 is a waste of taxpayer dollars, both in the added costs to print up and tally ballot votes and the extra cost to print up Eyman’s required material in the Voters pamphlet. They represent an abuse of the public electoral process in that they are no more than a biased anti-tax slanted push poll conducted at public expense. The Advisory Tax Vote requirement  in I-960 needs to be either repealed by legislators or the voters.

Tax Advisory Votes Might Not Mean Much But Cost a Lot, Seattle Times, July 16, 2013

Voters to Send Pricey Telegram with Five Tax Advisory Votes -Legislators will get scarlet letter, Erik Smith, Washington State Wire, July 23, 2013

 

 

Majority of Public Supports the Affordable Care Act

Polls can be manipulated to get the results you want. It all depends on the questions you ask. And often its a matter of asking incomplete questions or not clarifying what it is that people are actually saying.  Such is the case with support for the Affordable Care Act. Republicans love to call it Obamacare so that Republicans who don’t like Obama will be against it, even through it was the US Congress not President Obama who passed the legislation. But their strategy is not working as a close analysis of polling shows.

Charles M Blow in the New York Times in an article entitled Kamikaze Congress points out how right wing Tea Party Republicans in the US House continue their relentless drive to try to undo the Affordable Care Act as if a majority of Americans oppose it.This is their strategy:

Delay and defund. And default.

That is the House Republicans’ brilliant plan in their last-ditch effort to block implementation of the Affordable Care Act. It is a plan that threatens to grind the government to a halt and wreak havoc on the economy.

If they can’t take over Washington, they’ll shut it down. It’s their way or no way. All or nothing.

This is what has become of a party hijacked by zealots.

The problem is that the majority of Americans do not support what they are trying to do. Republicans seriously misread the polling data and the American public. And it all has to do with understanding the actual polling data.

Tea Party Republicans in the House are blinded by their hatred of President Obama and thus continue their unrelenting drive to try to deny him any victory – having voted some 42 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

The problem is as Blow points out:

Some of them twist poll results to buttress their bitterness. They point to polls showing that most Americans opposed the law as fuel for their fight. What they neglect to reveal is that a sizable portion of those who opposed the law do so because they don’t think it goes far enough, not because it goes too far. A May CNN/ORC poll found that 43 percent of Americans favored the law while 54 percent opposed it. But it also found that of those polled, 16 percent opposed the law because they thought that it wasn’t liberal enough. Put another way, 59 percent of Americans support the law or want it to be more liberal.

Furthermore, a poll released this week by the Pew Research Center found that of the 53 percent of Americans who said they disapproved of the law, the percentage who want elected officials who oppose the law to try to make it work as well as possible was larger than the percentage who wanted them to try to make it fail.

The American people are not on the far right’s side in battle. House Republicans are on a quixotic mission.

These results are significant and point out how polling can be used to manipulate and misinterpret what it is the public actually believes. There are many of us, including me, who believe the law does not go far enough. That should not be falsely interpreted as our wanting to see the Affordable Care Act repealed. Instead we are pushing for a better system, like a single payer system or expanding Medicare to cover everyone, so that we can remove the money that goes to pay corporate healthcare executives and billing companies and others, and put it toward actually providing healthcare at a much cheaper cost, like many other European Countries currently do.

As PBS points out in “Health Costs: How the US Compares to Other Countries”

$8,233 per year? That’s how much the U.S. spends per person.

Worth it?

That figure is more than two-and-a-half times more than most developed nations in the world, including relatively rich European countries like France, Sweden and the United Kingdom. On a more global scale, it means U.S. health care costs now eat up 17.6 percent of GDP.

We can do better. Going backward like Tea Party zealots in the US House of Representatives propose is a losing proposition.

 

Time to Increase the Federal Minimum Wage and Index It to Inflation

As the Huffington Post points out it’s been 4 years since the last increase in the Federal minimum wage. It’s time to raise the minimum wage and index it to inflation so that Congress does not repeatedly ignore inflation impacts on the wages of low income workers. Corporate millionaires  seem to have no problem getting their income raised. Why do Republicans in Congress hate low income workers?

If you raise the minimum wage, low income workers will spend the money and help the economy.  Henry Ford long ago understood that if he didn’t pay his workers reasonable wages they weren’t going to be able to buy his cars. It seems conservative and Tea party Republicans in Congress both don’t understand or care.

As an article a year ago in Deseret News noted:

The federal minimum wage, which is $7.25, hasn’t changed since 2009. In real terms, America’s lowest-paid workers make less than they did in 1968, according to Remapping Debate. With an annual income of $15,080, a full-time minimum wage worker’s salary is just under the 2012 federal poverty threshold of $15,130 for a family of two. It falls well below the poverty threshold for a family of three, which is $19,090.

A year later nothing has changed. Republicans continue to sneer at low income workers rather than working for fairness and a more equitable distribution of the fruits of business that don’t just increase wages and benefits for those at the top and increase dividends for stock holders, while ignoring the real life day to day plight of many of their workers.

While Congress is under siege by Republican lawmakers opposes raising the minimum wage, states have fared better in increasing it. As Stateline pointed out earlier this year:

“…minimum wage hikes at the state level have been popular among voters: Since 1998, proposed increases have been on statewide ballots 10 times in nine states, and all of them were successful. In those elections the ballot measures won an average of 65 percent of the vote, according to the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, a progressive Washington, D.C., group that advocated for the hikes.”

Washington State has the highest state minimum wage in the country at $9.19 an hour. It has remained as a leader in keeping pace with inflation because when it was passed by the voters it included language for an automatic increase each year based on inflation. When Initiative 688 was passed by the voters in 1998, Washington State  was the first state in the country to put in place an automatic inflation increase each year. Unfortunately the federal minimum wage law does not and is subject to continual delays and battles in Congress to try to increase it to keep pace with inflation.

New Jersey has a minimum wage increase initiative on the ballot this year. Stateline notes that

If New Jersey voters approve the measure on the ballot there, the state would become the 11th with annual automatic increases to the minimum wage indexed to inflation: Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Vermont and Washington already index. In all of them except Vermont, voters approved the measure with the automatic hike at the polls.

Congress needs to act to be fair and just to low income workers in our country. Conservative politics driven by Tea Party Republicans and libertarian philosophy needs to be shown for what it is – a hypocritical joke where tax breaks for corporations and special interests rule their decisions to benefit the well off and few while millions struggle to meet basic living expenses.

The country is continuing under conservative policies to further divide the rich and poor.  Wealth continues to be concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer Americans. More states need to push for increases in their state minimum wage, putting more pressure on Congress to act.  Republican anti-worker positions needs to be challenged  and voters supporting state minimum wage laws that include automatic increases for inflation are one way to do that. In addition continued pressure needs to be put on Congress to act.

 

Tim Eyman’s Libertarian Vision for Washington State

Tim Eyman’s political philosophy for Washington State is libertarian at heart. The problem is that the libertarian vision is no vision at all. Libertarians argue for a minimalist government and this is Tim Eyman’s approach on his initiatives. If one asks who is Tim Eyman most like in his ideas, both Grover Norquist and Ayn Rand come to mind.  There is seemingly no end point in how small government should be or how minimal taxes should be.

As E J Dionne wrote recently in the Washington Post  Libertarianism’s Achilles’ heel is that there is currently no country in the world that is libertarian run. That in itself should give voters pause as they blindly follow Eyman. It is a dead end for our state as education funding and other vital state functions get reduced and reduced until it’s only everyone for themselves.

Thinking about what Eyman’s approach leads to comes to mind because of an article I came across written by Andy Garber of the Seattle Times right before last year’s elections. Eyman’s two thirds vote requirement for the Washington State Legislature had not yet been overturned by the Washington State Supreme Court as unconstitutional. The  article was entitled “State ballots’ new twist: tax advisory votes“.

The article noted that Eyman’s Initiative 960 and and I-1185 on that November’s ballot not only required a 2/3 vote by the legislature to pass taxes but also added a” nonbinding public advisory vote” when lawmakers approved any tax increase no matter by what margin of votes or whose taxes were affected.

By Eyman’s definition repealing a tax loophole was a tax increase, even if the loophole provided no public benefit and transferred tax obligations to others.   In reality tax loopholes are tax expenditures – off budget spending of tax revenue to benefit a special interest or business but without the regular in depth scrutiny other state expenditures get during the regular biennial budget process. And with Eyman all taxes need to be opposed as runaway spending regardless of who pays or for what purpose.

Looking at the two advisory votes on the November 2012 ballot placed there as a result of Eyman’s I-960 and the response by Eyman as to what these votes meant points out the absurdity of Eyman’s libertarian slash taxes in all cases approach to dealing with public issues.

Here is the wording of advisory vote No 2 as set up by Tim Eyman’s language in Initiative 960.

The legislature extended, without a vote of the people, expiration of a tax on possession of petroleum products and reduced the tax rate, costing $24,000,000 in its first ten years, for government spending.
 This tax increase should be:

[  ]  Repealed

[  ]  Maintained

The voting public got no further explanation than the ballot title in the voter’s pamphlet, unlike initiatives and referendum which have an explanatory statement, a fiscal impact statement (not a 10 year cost projection) and no arguments for or against.

In addition the attorney general had no real ability to explain the issue in the ballot title since Eyman’s initiative 960 required that the ballot tile be written as:

The legislature imposed, without a vote of the people, (identification of tax and description of increase), costing (most up-to-date ten-year cost projection, expressed in dollars and rounded to the nearest million) in its first ten years, for government spending. This tax increase should be:
Repealed . . .[ ]
Maintained . . .[ ]‰

I have made bold  the mandatory wording required which by themselves are  intended to encourage people to vote to repeal any “tax increase”.

In the advisory vote No 2, voters voted  “to repeal” this “tax increase” by a vote of 55% to 45%. No campaign was run to urge voters to maintain the “tax increase” because it was only an advisory vote. If one had been run voters might have gotten more information on what this bill really did. The bill SHB 2590 passed the House by 93 yeas, 1 nay and 4 excused.  It passed the Senate by 40 yeas, 0 nays and 9 excused. It was supported by the Washington Oil Marketers Association and the Western States Petroleum Association.

In reality the “petroleum tax” was really an insurance program that particularly benefited all homeowners with underground oil storage tanks from liability caused by oil leaking from a tank. Cleanup fees from leaking oil pollution could easily exceed $10,000 to $20,000 in liability plus contaminated water problems. This was not a controversial bill and easily exceeded the then 2/3 vote requirement imposed by Eyman to raise taxes.

Yet Eyman’s myopic libertarian philosophy says all taxes are bad and should be opposed. His push poll style ballot title wording contributed to voters voting against “tax increases” even when those increases benefited taxpayers. That’s because for Eyman the issue isn’t about good government or responsible government. It’s about the least government possible.

Eyman’s response before the election according to Andrew Garber’s article was:

“Eyman said that if voters reject the taxes approved by lawmakers, he hopes the Legislature would repeal them.”   

The second advisory vote on the ballot was to repeal a tax break originally passed to help home state bank Washington Mutual, which went out of business.  It now only benefited large out of state banks  by eliminating B&O taxes they would otherwise have had to pay on interest on residential loans on 1st mortgages.

Again using Eyman’s push poll style ballot title the ballot title read:

The legislature eliminated, without a vote of the people, a business and occupation tax deduction for certain financial institutions’ interest on residential loans, costing $170,000,000 in its first ten years, for government spending.

This tax increase should be:

[  ]  Repealed

[  ]  Maintained

Again the public responded to the anti-tax bias in the ballot title and with no campaign supporting the measure and no further explanation, the public in their advisory vote mode voted 56.9% to 43.1% to repeal ending this tax break that didn’t benefit state taxpayers but did give a tax break to big out of state banks.

In Eyman’s world it is all black and white. Taxes are bad. Government is bad. And those that follow blindly after him are hurting their own self interest and the state’s ability to fund program that benefit the public. Fortunately the advisory votes were only “advisory”.  But knee jerk public reaction to be anti tax in Eyman’s libertarian world only leads to people blindly followed his pied piper like lead over the cliff as they respond without thinking.

Eyman this year continues his assault on state government by proposing a new initiative to the legislature to limit all tax increases to one year until the state puts on the ballot a constitutional amendment to  require a 2/3 vote to raise any revenue or repeal any tax exemption. This would turn over to a 1/3 minority faction of legislators veto power over a majority of legislators. It seems Eyman’s libertarian views are not held by the majority of Legislators elected so he needs to try to change the rules to let a minority of legislators run the state. Voters need to reject Eyman’s libertarian government takeover proposal by not signing  his initiative and vigorously opposing it if it makes it onto next year’s ballot.