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.