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This issue should have been decided long ago by the Washington State Supreme Court. Any attempt to limit the Washington State Legislature from enacting revenue bills or repealing non-performing tax exemptions by requiring a supermajority vote is unconstitutional. Initiative 1053 is unconstitutional and should be rejected by voters this November.

The Washington State Constitution is very clear on this issue.

Article II, Section 22 states:

“PASSAGE OF BILLS. No bill shall become a law unless on its final passage the vote be taken by yeas and nays, the names of the members voting for and against the same be entered on the journal of each house, and a majority of the members elected to each house be recorded thereon as voting in its favor.

It does not state that more than a majority vote can be required. Initiative 1053 tries to change that by requiring Legislators to act by a 2/3 supermajority vote in both Houses to enact revenue measures or repeal tax exemptions. It happens to be revenue in this case but it could just as easy be environmental protections or labor issues or race issues or women’s issues or any other issue.

The fact of the matter is that anything more than 50% to pass a bill would give Legislators on one side of the issue more power than the other side in determining the outcome of a vote.  Requiring a 2/3 vote to pass a measure means that the vote of 1/3 of the Legislators can prevail over the vote of 2/3 of the Legislators.

A majority vote gives both sides on a issue equal voting power  to pass or reject legislation. Everyone’s vote has equal weight. It’s the basic concept of one person/one vote. But a 2/3 vote requirement for Legislators to pass something means that 1/3 of the Legislators can prevent passage;  in essence giving the vote of those opposed to a measure  twice the weight of someone voting for the measure.

This sets up a two tiered system of weighted votes, something that is not in the State Constitution for passing legislation.  It distorts the process of representational government. Initiative 1053 tries to change the Washington State Constitution by saying that in some cases your elected Senator or Representative will represent you with one full vote to decide an issue but in cases involving raising revenue or repealing non-performing tax exemptions, they will essentially only have the equivalent of half a vote to decide the issue if they vote yes. If they vote no their vote will represent a full vote.

This is the flaw in supermajority votes. Under a 2/3 majority vote requirement to pass some issues, it sets up a system that essentially assigns Legislators the equivalent of half a vote if they vote yes or a full vote if they vote no on certain issues.

While I-1053 would require supermajority votes for deciding to raise revenue or repeal non-performing tax exemptions, it only requires a simple majority to pass itself. It does not require a 2/3 vote.

Washington voters are certainly not overwhelmed by this proposal based on past voting. In the one instance in which it was mentioned specifically in the ballot title, it just barely passed. That was Initiative 960 in 2007. It only received a 51.24% yes vote. That is nowhere near the 2/3 voting requirement it is asking the State Legislature to operate under.

In 1993, the 2/3 vote requirement was an issue in Initiative 601, even though it was not specifically mentioned in the ballot title.  It also just barely passed with a 51.21 % yes vote.

Eyman mentions this measure passing 3 times which is misrepresenting the issue. In 1998 voters passed Referendum 49. It’s subject dealt with motor vehicle excise taxes, bonds for highways and spending limits. Nowhere was a 2/3 vote requirement mentioned in the ballot title or official arguments for the voters pamphlet by supporters and opponents as referenced by the League of Women Voters.

These attempts to negate the concept of 1 person/1 vote for Legislators voting are unconstitutional. They are attempts to assign different voting powers to different Legislators depending on whether they vote for or against a particular measure. The Washington State Constitution does not allow the ability to weight votes for bills depending on the subject.

Article I, Section 29 states:

CONSTITUTION MANDATORY. The provisions of this Constitution are mandatory, unless by express words they are declared to be otherwise.

The State Constitution does not set up the power to weight votes depending on a Legislator’s position on a bill.

The issue of revenue/taxes is specifically addressed in another part of the Washington State Constitution.

Article VII, Section 1 states:

TAXATION. The power of taxation shall never be suspended, surrendered or contracted away.

Initiative 1053 is obviously an attempt to take away the Legislator’s authority to raise revenue or taxes to support public services. The only way this can be altered is by a constitutional amendment.

An initiative or legislative bill can not amend the state constitution. That requires a constitutional amendment. Because constitutional amendments affect the basic framework of how our government works, it is a specific instance where the state constitution spells out a requirement for a 2/3 vote by the Legislature and a majority vote of the people to pass. Two other instances spelled out for 2/3 votes by the Legislature are to expel a member of the house and a 2/3 vote in the first 2 years to amend an initiative.

No where does the Washington State Constitution say that voters can by a simple majority vote on an initiative, limit the power of Legislators to pass revenue legislation or repeal under-performing tax exemptions  by requiring supermajority votes. Under Article I, Section 29 to do so would require express words and no such words exist in the Constitution.

Initiative 1053 should be rejected by voters this November. It is unconstitutional. Uphold our Constitution by voting No on 1053 this November 2nd!

A just released report by the Rockefeller Institute of Government confirms analysis that Initiative 1033, if passed by voters in November, will likely make economic recovery in Washington State more difficult. While not directly addressing I-1033, the negative impact of the initiative is clear from the current economic figures.

Steeply declining revenue would reset the baseline from which next year’s inflation plus population growth would occur under I-1033. Analysis by the Washington State Budget and Policy Center notes that deceases in revenue during a recession will permanently lower the baseline and revenue to fund government services in future years.

The Rockefeller Report is entitled “State Tax Decline in Early 2009 was the Sharpest on Record“. Overall it notes that “State tax collections for the first quarter of 2009 showed a drop of 11.7%, the sharpest decline in the 46 years for which quarterly data are available. Combining the census Bureau’s quarterly data with its annual statistical series, which extends back to 1952, the most recent decline in state tax revenues was the worst on record.”

The figures given for Washington State in the report in Table 9 points to a 13.2% drop in sales tax and a 9% overall drop in quarterly state tax revenue comparing the January – March 2008 revenue to the January – March 2009 revenue.

The report also notes in looking ahead for all states that “The January – March quarter was the worst on record for states. The worst decline in sales tax in 50 years represents historic weakness in one of two major tax sources for states. Preliminary data for the April – June quarter suggest that fiscal conditions deteriorated even further …Such extraordinary weakness in revenues, along with continued if more moderate growth in expenditures, make widespread budget shortfalls highly likely this year.”

For Washington State a decreased revenue baseline under I-1033 will mean the emergency budget cuts this year become permanent budget cuts. There will be no new money to reduce classroom size or fund educational reform. Cuts to state health care are permanent. Cuts to all state services will not be restored. And future budget cuts due to the recession lowering the state’s revenue baseline will be necessary.

A state budget that only keeps pace with inflation and population growth under I-1033 is at best only able to keep pace with decreased purchasing power and increased population growth. An ever decreasing ability to fund government services under the recession resetting baseline that I-1033 mandates allows its sponsor Tim Eyman to follow in the footsteps of conservative Grover Norquist and his goal to continually reduce government spending and drown it in the bathtub.

The problem with this philosophy is that it doesn’t track reality. The free market economy does not solve many of society’s problems. Government is needed to help meet basic needs and provide balance and legal protections from those motivated by self interest and greed. History has shown us the shortcomings of societies that only serve the privileged few. It is the vision of being compassionate and providing legal protections and helping people that sets us apart from those like Eyman that make it their life’s mission to berate government serving people.

Taxes provide police and fire protection, free libraries, health care, roads and buses and sidewalks, education, environmental protection, parks and much more. Those that berate taxes like Eyman too often demagogue the issues while using these public services.

Eyman for example went to Washington State University and received a subsidy of his education because public tax dollars paid part of the cost. Maybe he should refund what the state paid for his education. Likewise he went to public school – maybe he should refund what others paid for his education there.

One could go on and on – the point is that government is not some evil leach sucking up tax dollars. It is providing benefits day in and day out that we all use and too frequently take for granted. Taxes are part of the cost we pay to live in our society. While no one really likes to pay taxes, we all benefit from the multitude of services government provides.

You can also find a write up of the Rockefeller Institute report in today’s New York Times.

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Initiative 960 should never have won. But opponents gave it life by running a campaign that had no real message that anyone could understand. And they repeated the failed strategy of trying to ignore Eyman in the media thinking that their absence would somehow diminish voter support and enthusiasm for the measure.

This is how Eyman won in the past – because opponents thought that by seemingly ignoring Eyman they could diminish his appeal. The result was that in the free media there was very little evidence that there was opposition to his measure.

There were articles in the papers where in places like Bellingham, Eyman received press coverage and no opponent showed up to debate the issues. This leaves the public with the impression that there was no organized opposition.

Once again opponents let Eyman win by their trying to run a stealth campaign to defeat him. You beat Eyman by taking him head on, not ignoring him. The stealth campaign fizzled just as it has done before. They come close but lack the power or momentum or emotion to shut Eyman down.

Opponents also ran a closed campaign which was a mistake. About 6 weeks or so before the election I went to what was billed as a coalition meeting. It was not a coalition meeting at all but only a presentation by the consultant organized and consultant run campaign that did not get people and organizations to really buy into it as their campaign to defeat I-960 or feel that there was a role or place for them besides maybe contributing money.

People and organizations most intently fight campaigns that they are a part of and have some sense of involvement and ownership in. Coalition Boards can be messy sometimes but it’s a lot more effective to have people arguing over strategy of their campaigns than having them sitting on the sidelines watching consultants run paid media ads.

If there were any other coalition “meetings” I was not aware of them. Eyman lucked out once again. It’s like opponents thought that money alone without emotion and commitment to fight a real campaign battle would turn the day.

I contrast these wimpy anti-Eyman campaigns with the slugfests and emotion and commitment and coalition building efforts that people put into defeating the two right wing efforts to scuttle land use and growth management in our state via the so-called “takings” crowd.

Now its up to the Courts to deal with the constitutionality of I-960. The earlier court battle to keep I-960 off the ballot was ruled premature.

The key issue is whether the voters can by an initiative amend the Washington State Constitution by requiring a 2/3 vote for revenue increases when the state constitution says the Legislature shall act by a simple majority vote.

A final note – Unfortunately for the supporters of the simple majority for school levies, they wound up on the same ballot with I-960. My guess is that those that didn’t support the simple majority for schools bonds were the same people who supported Initiative 960.

Initiative 960 is really quite simple. It is a right wing Trojan Horse designed to overturn majority rule in the Washington State Legislature. The main beneficiary would be the Republican Party.

Forget that Initiative 960 is unconstitutional because it overturns the majority vote decision making process set up by the Washington State Constitution. If passed and not challenged in Court, as Initiative 601 was never challenged in a timely manner, it would give a one third minority of Legislators powerful control over the state budget and the ability to raise revenue or increase fees to keep pace with increased costs.

Disguised as a way to increase accountability of the Legislature, Initiative 960 is really a Trojan Horse whose purpose is to hand over control of one of the Legislature’s major powers – the ability to raise revenue -to one third of the Legislators. Of course those Legislators who would gain power under this scheme would be the minority Republicans who ideologically oppose any tax and fee increases no matter what the issue or need.

Forget that Democrats have a solid majority of Legislators in both the House and Senate. This bill would put the conservative anti-tax Republicans in charge of the Legislature when it comes to major budget matters.

Requiring a supermajority of two thirds of the Legislators to pass tax increases would mean that 33 Representatives out of 98 total and 16 Senators out of 49 total would be running the show. Forget Speaker Frank Chopp of the House – he would be toast if Initiative 960 passes. Forget Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown – she no longer would matter. Chopp would need 66 Representatives to pass any revenue increasing bill. Brown would need 33 Senators to do so.

Requiring a two votes to pass legislation to increase revenue is a difficult hurdle to pass. Realize that a two thirds vote of Congress is required to over ride a Presidential veto. It does not happen that often.

Initiative 960 would drastically change the Legislative process as set up by the Washington State Constitution by overturning majority rules for voting. The democratic idea of Legislative majorities making decisions no longer would be the case.

Initiative 960 in this sense is a radical idea. It would overturn the whole concept of representative democracy by majority rule and would give the power of raising revenue or not raising revenue in the state of Washington to what one could call a super powerful Minority Rules .

If Initiative 960 were to pass the new law of the land would be Minority Rules.

This idea of a super powerful Minority Rules is of course what the right wing anti government anti tax ideologues hope voters will create by passing Initiative 960. Running as Republicans with this agenda and ideology has seen them lose their majority status in Washington State. Rejected by voters in the majority of legislative districts across the state, Republicans are salivating, hoping voters pass Initiative 960.

Running as Republicans they could not outright win a majority of Legislative seats espousing these ideas. So now they are resorting to this backdoor ruse, this Trojan Horse, to try to regain the control they once had in the Legislature.

This effort is wholeheartedly endorsed by the Washington State Republican Party. They are letting their wunderkind do the front work.

Initiative 960 is the cute baby of Tim Eyman and his money man Michael Dunmire. Dunmire and his wife contributed some $500,000 to buy their way onto the ballot by paying signature gatherers, many from out of state, to collect the necessary signatures.

Dunmire lives in Woodinville, Washington and epitomizes the anti democratic master plan of those who would like to revive the rejected ideas of the anti-government anti-tax old guard Republicans who have lost favor with citizens that want to see government work to benefit the people of this state.

Initiative 960 is a throwback to the rejected ideals of the Grover Norquists of the world that want to drown government in a bath tub by rejecting all taxes.

The best thing that Washington voters can do is drown Initiative 960 and flush it down the toilet. Vote No on Initiative 960. Let’s move Washington forward and work for a better state.

see also:

Initiative 960: No Straightjackets - Seattle PI Oct 10, 2007

Potential Financial Impacts of I-960 - Office of Financial Management State of Washington

I-960 won’t fix real problems - The Olympian Aug 23, 2007

No I-960! website

Initiative 960: Inefficient and ambiguous – Washington State Budget and Policy Center

Initiative 960 -Vote No - Sierra Club

Organizations Opposing Initiative 960

The League of Women Voters of Washington Opposes Initiative 960

Reasons to Oppose Initiative 960 - Permanent Defense

Vote No I-960 – Futurewise

Seventeen House Democrats have signed onto HB 2117 in the Washington State Legislature. House Bill 2117 would re-enact the provisions of Eyman’s Initiative 747. Initiative 747 is currently being reviewed by the Washington State Supreme Court after a lower court overturned it.

I-747 limited revenue growth from property taxes each year to the lesser of 1% or inflation, whichever is lower. The problem is that if inflation is greater than 1%, the revenues available to cities and counties do not keep up with inflation and fewer services can be provided.

Many cities and counties, particularly ones that are experiencing little new construction, are facing revenue shortfalls. This is particularly true for some counties in eastern Washington.

In addition many voters are confused when they see their property tax bills go up 5% or more each year in their taxing district. They don’t understand that the 1% limit applies to the overall property tax valuations. If some homes increase in value faster than other homes in a city or county they will see a bigger tax increase on their personal property tax bills. The 1% limit does not refer to an individual taxpayer ‘s property taxes being limited to only a 1% increase.

What Washington State needs is a Property Tax Homestead Exemption on people’s principal residence. It could either be a flat exemption on all homes – like the first $50,000 of valuation is not taxed. Or it could be a percentage of the median property tax in a county – like the first 25% of the median property tax valuation is exempt from being taxed.

Tim Eyman signed into the Legislative hearings this year on property tax bills as opposed to the Homestead Exemption. He is not interested in changing our tax system to one that is fairer and less regressive – he is only for an across the Board cutting of taxes , which cuts funding for local services.

It seems that some Democrats aren’t willing to take a closer look at alternatives like the Property Tax Homestead Exemption or Circuit Breakers which would benefit those homeowners most needing help – low and middle income households, who pay a higher percentage of their wages for property taxes than the more wealthy do.

It is important that taxpayers contact their legislators and urge them not to re-enact I-747. There are better solutions to solving rising property tax burdens than across the board property tax cuts which benefit wealthy property owners like shopping malls and developers more than the average taxpayer struggling to make ends meet.

The Washington Tax Fairness Coalition has set up a website page that will allow you to communicate your opposition to rushing to enact I-747, rather than look at alternative property tax proposals that specifically help low and middle income homeowners most in need of help.

Click here to send a message to Legislators. This is a link that allows you to send a message to your Legislators. The Washington Tax Fairness Coalition message is on both I-747 and their priority bill to have a tax exemption report included as part of the State budget. You can modify their text to send your own message.

Washington State House Democrats supporting re-enacting Eyman’s I-747:

Christopher Hurst L.D. 31
Kevin Van De Wege L.D. 24
John McCoy L.D. 38
Dean Takko L.D. 19
Don Barlow L.D. 6
Troy Kelley L.D. 28
Christine Rolfes L.D. 23
Larry Seaquist L.D. 26
Mark Ericks L.D. 1
Deborah Eddy L.D. 48
Ross Hunter L.D. 48
Dave Quail L.D. 40
Lynn Kessler L.D. 24
Dawn Morrell L.D. 25
Brian Blake L.D. 19
Pat Sullivan L.D. 47
Patricia Lantz L.D. 26

These Legislators need to hear from their constituents that they don’t support I-747 tax cuts that hurt local services like paying for police, fire, parks, and libraries by not allowing revenues to even keep up with inflation. Eyman’s I-747 was not tax reform for a fairer tax system, it was a tax cutting measure to cut local government services. It is the wrong answer to fairer taxes for Washington taxpayers!

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For a whopping total of $15 this year, Initiative 953 became Initiative 954 which then became Initiative 960. Tim Eyman wastes taxpayer dollars and resources filing 3 identical initiatives (at $5 a piece) so he can get a ballot number he likes. He laughs at the Washington State Legislature and recently emphatically told them in a public hearing that all of his initiatives are different. That is a lie.

The Washington Secretary of State’s website lists 36 initiatives Eyman filed last year. Most of these initiatives were multiple filings of the same initiatives. The same “tax and fee increase” initiative was filed as I-913, I-930, I-944, I-368, I-370, I-372, I-373, I-374, I-376, I-377, I-378, and again as I-953, I-954, and I-960 this January.

Eyman refiles basically the same initiative multiple times for 2 reasons. The first reason is to get a ballot number he likes. The second reason is to changes words, phrases and sentences to try to change the ballot title he is assigned by the Attorney General’s Office. If he doesn’t like the ballot title he gets, he will change a word or two and refile. All of this is done at taxpayers’ expense. He only pays $5 per initiative filing. It costs taxpayers a lot more than this. Maybe its time for a performance audit of the state initiative filing process.

The Secretary of State’s Office pays staff to process each initiative and send it to the code revisers office which devotes staff time to review it for conformity to state law. They draft up a letter to give to the initiative sponsor suggesting needed changes. When the initiative is transported back to the Secretary of State’s Office more staff time is used to process it again, assign it a ballot number and send it to the Attorney General’s Office. Time is also spent entering the initiative text on the Secretary of State’s website.

The Attorney General’s Office devotes staff time and resources to come up with the ballot title and summary, reviewing their proposed ballot title and summary language with any interested parties and then defending it in Thurston County Superior Court if their language is challenged. This can be very time consuming and lawyer intensive – again all at taxpayer expense.

Of the 36 initiatives Eyman filed last year, 20 were filed as initiatives to the legislature through Dec 2006. Eyman had no intent of collecting signatures on these. The deadline for turning in signatures on initiatives to the Legislature is the end of December. Eyman has had over 5 months to get signatures on his recent initiatives and still failed. So he’s going to be successful starting with only 1 0r 2 months left to get signatures?

He also wouldn’t want to give the Legislature a chance to propose an alternative. His initiatives are refiled frequently to try to get what he thinks is a better ballot title and summary. Most people who might challenge these ballot titles as inaccurate are not watching the initiative process very closely in November and December. This gives Eyman a chance to get a quick start in January when he refiles one or two of these as initiatives to the people, already having a ballot title waiting.

Eyman’s current “Minority Rules” Initiative 960 was filed and refiled 11 times last year as such an initiative to the Legislature. He refiled it three times this year as an initiative to the people to change the initiative number from I-953 to I-954 to I-960.

Some in the Legislature have filed a bill to raise the filing fee to $100 to at least recoup some of the cost of this process. In California the filing fee for city initiatives like San Francisco and Sacramento is $200. Maine charges no fee.

Eyman’s abuse of the process to benefit his initiative mill business is what makes people angry. One bad apple can spoil it for the rest of us. I’ve filed and worked on many initiative campaigns over the years. I think we need to continue to keep the process open to the people so they can petition for change when the Legislature doesn’t act. But Eyman’s behavior and disrespect for the process is like a little boy in the cookie jar. He doesn’t eat just one or two cookies. He eats the whole jar.

His Initiative 960 of course is another example of a spoiled boy’s behavior. Eyman doesn’t like the fact that the Washington State Constitution says that the Legislature shall vote by majority rule. So he’s trying to fool the voters into believing that he can ignore the state Constitution and require that any vote to increase revenue to pay for services either requires a 2/3 vote by the Legislature or a majority vote by the Legislature and a majority vote of the people.

Under I-960 if the Legislature wanted to just increase the filing fee to an outrageous $10, they would have to have a 2/3 vote of the Legislature or put it on the ballot for all of us to vote on. Yes under Eyman’s Initiative 960 all fee increases as well as tax increases would require a vote. I can just see the ballot now, ten or twenty pages long as we all get to decide what fees are charged water users, boat launches, grazing fees, business licenses, game licenses and on and on. Like we just must vote on all of these?

Eyman continues to abuse the public trust. He rails against a wasteful government but feels no remorse about using taxpayer dollars and resources to further his own business. In that sense he is no different than all the other businesses lobbyists down in Olympia looking for handouts and exemptions from expenses and taxes that the rest of us have to pay.

Eyman continues to distort the truth whenever he speaks. Eyman claims on his website for his regurgitation of $30 license tabs that “Oregon and Idaho charge a flat low and reasonable fee to license a vehicle” That is not true.

Eyman wants to have all motor vehicles under 20,000 pounds register for $30. For vehicles under 8,000 pounds Oregon charges $27 but compare below:

currently in Washington – 8,000 pound truck $62/year
currently in Oregon 8,000 – 10,000 pound truck $169/year
Eyman initiative proposal – trucks under 20,000 pounds $30/year

currently in Washington 18,000 pound truck $154/year
currently in Oregon 18,000- 20,000 pound truck $291/year
Eyman initiative proposal trucks under 20,000 pounds $30/year

* Eyman figures based on initiative 915 as printed on Washington Secretary of State’s website.
Oregon figures from Oregon Dept of Motor Vehicles.

Oregon license fees for campers and travel trailers are by length of vehicle and goes from $81 for a 6-10 foot camper to $283 for a 40 foot camper. Any of these vehicles weighting less than 20,000 pounds or 10 tons would only be charged $30 under I-915

Likewise Oregon motor homes 6-10 feet long start at $63 and go to $195 /year for a $45 foot long vehicle.

So Eyman is actually urging you to oppose his own initiative when he says Oregon’s fees are “reasonable”

Fees are also higher in Idaho than Eyman proposes here in Washington. Passenger cars and motor home yearly license fees are $35 to $60 depending on vehicle age and county of residence. Passenger vehicles are defined for registration purposes as motor vehicles less than 8,000 pounds. RV license fees are calculated based on market values. Vehicles 8,001 to 26,000 pounds are registered as commercial vehicles.

So Oregon and Idaho license fess are not “flat”. They are not “low” because in many cases, like in Oregon, they exceed Washington’s current fees for trucks. And if Eyman thinks they are “reasonable” then he really has no reason to apply a $30 fee to vehicles up to 10 tons. Idaho’s $35 fee is only for vehicles less than 6,000 pounds!

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