Currently viewing the tag: "Tim Eyman"

`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.

Eyman  does not equate any of the public’s tax dollars to the services they provide to the people of this state, like keeping state parks open, or keeping our air clean to breathe or our water clean to drink, or providing preschool education or K-12 education or college education or health care or senior care to our citizens. I truly believe he has no compassion or understanding in any of this – he is driven by his libertarian politics and the game of trying to win no matter what, that he has lost sight of the impact of his policy proposals on the people of this state, particularly those who are not so well off and need compassion and help,  not some political rhetoric that opposes the very idea of public good.

Eyman plays off the fact that Washington State’s tax system is the most regressive in the country, that the poorest pay up to 17 % of their income in taxes while the wealthiest pay only 3 %. The problem is that his measures hurt most  those less well off because they prevent meaningful tax reform that would help to make our  taxesfairer.  Requiring a 2/3 vote to raise taxes includes raising taxes on the wealthy, like the proposal to tax capital gains. The wealthy have the most stocks for example that would be taxed under such a proposal and  a capital gains tax  would help to make our state tax system less regressive.  Eyman’s proposals  feed off his libertarian opposition to taxes on anyone and everyone but provide false illusions and hope  to the less well off that that will somehow benefit them.

Another example of how  general opposition to opposing any “tax increase” and requiring a 2/3 vote by Legislators to pass or a 1/3 vote to reject would help maintain a regressive tax structure that benefits the wealthy and special interests and big corporation, is that Eyman defines a tax increase as anything that adds revenue to the state coffers.  So repealing a tax exemption falls under this definition. It would add revenue to the state general fund.  But some tax exemptions benefit the wealthy and well off and contribute to our regressive tax structure and are questionable as to why they exist.

One example of such a questionable tax break is one reported in 2010 by Microsoft.  Danny Westneat wrote about it in an article entitled, “Microsoft doesn’t need our tax break

“Microsoft reports it is getting a $104.5 million break in its sales taxes — a threefold jump compared with what it reported the year before. The tax break comes as part of a program established in 1994, under then-Gov. Mike Lowry, to promote the fledgling high-tech industry. It lets companies get out of paying sales tax on building research-and-development facilities, including the equipment used in them, such as computers. …

But a lot has changed since 1994, when these tax breaks were passed.

Microsoft is hardly a fledgling company that needs a hand up. It announced last week it has stockpiled $52.8 billion in cash and short-term investments. That’s billion with a B.

Put it this way: If we didn’t give Microsoft the $104.5 million tax break, it would have $52.668 billion cash on hand.

Second, the state has never found any evidence these high-tech tax breaks produce many jobs, at least not jobs that wouldn’t have been created anyway. One study by the Department of Revenue found it took $588,000 worth of tax credits for each local job created.”

This tax break was created by a majority vote as all tax breaks have been.  But under Eyman’s proposed 2/3 voting scheme it would take a 2/3 vote in the House and a 2/3 vote in the Senate to repeal it. Which would be very difficult because only 1/3 of the members in one House are needed to oppose it. Which is why companies like BP and Conoco Phillips supported Eyman’s past 1/3 voting initiatives.  Nothing like grandfathering in your tax break so future Legislatures can only in very rare instances decide to end them.  And if one tried to end them by a vote of the people, expect high spending by the companies and special interests that benefit from them.

In essence Eyman’s 1/3 constitutional amendment idea is a Tax Loophole Protection Amendment, protecting special interests  that have tax breaks now and want to make them permanent.  The state constitution should not be used to protect big corporations and special interests to the detriment of average taxpayers.  Eyman’s proposed amendment is not an amendment that protect the average citizen taxpayer in this state. It is an amendment that benefits the wealthy that want to keep the status quo and not reform our regressive tax system.

Let the State Legislators do their work.  Allow for flexibility in state laws and the budget to change as the political nature of the voters change.  Let that happen by a majority vote as the framers of the Washington State Constitution intended, not by giving special interests tax breaks whose benefit to state tax payers may change over time but which once grandfathered in would be almost impossible to repeal.

And any new tax break once passed would receive this same special treatment, only needing a simple majority to pass but a 2/3 vote to be repealed.  This is not rule by a democracy but by a rigged process to benefit special interests who want to avoid paying taxes.

Here is the official ballot title and summary for I-1325.  Notice the poor choice of wording in the ballot title, not specifying how mush the state sales tax would be decreased and no mention in the summary that it is a billion dollar decrease in revenue to the state or the consequences of this magnitude of this decrease.

Ballot Title
Initiative Measure No. 1325 concerns state taxes.

This measure would decrease the state retail sales tax rate unless, before April 15, 2015, the legislature refers to voters a constitutional amendment requiring two-thirds legislative approval or voter approval to raise taxes.

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

Ballot Measure Summary
This measure would decrease the state retail sales tax rate on April 15, 2015, from 6.5 percent to 5.5 percent unless, before April 15, 2015, the legislature refers to the ballot a vote on a constitutional amendment requiring two-thirds legislative approval or voter approval to raise taxes. The phrase “raise taxes” would be defined to include any action by the legislature that increases state tax revenue deposited in any fund, budget, or account.

View Complete Text PDF

 

Democratic Senator Adam Kline of the 37th LD has announced that he will not re-run this year for the Washington State legislative seat  he has held for many years.  He has been a staunch advocate on many progressive issues and will be missed.  In particular, unlike many other Legislators, he was willing to publicly oppose Tim Eyman’s many attempts to be Grover Norquist’s surrogate in Washington State. Eyman  would repeatedly say government was wasting money  and pushed initiatives to gut  government funding by opposing taxes of any kind.  Kline demanded Eyman publicly say what programs he thought should be cut and Eyman never responded, choosing instead to hide behind empty libertarian anti-tax rhetoric.

Senator Kline sent out this week  a detailed newsletter to his constituents which is very informative on what happened in the last Legislative session in 2013  and what the public can expect in this shortened 2 month session this year.  He is correct in noting don’t expect much to happen because Republicans control the State Senate. Much like their role in the US Congress, Republicans joined by so called Democratic Senators Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon,  have chosen to adopt a position of “my way or no way” rather than work collaboratively to address serious problems that need action in this state. And he correctly notes the Republican support for continuing tax expenditures without critical consideration as to whether or not they are benefiting the state or meeting state priorities.

Printed below is the e-mail Senator Adam Kline sent out and the link to his full newsletter:

 

Dear Neighbors,

It’s that time again. The legislative session—my eighteenth—starts on January 13, and I’m ready for action. In this newsletter (which you can read in its entirety on my blog ), I’ll review some of last session’s exciting events and explain my lowered expectations for this year. 

But first an announcement: I won’t be a candidate for re-election next year when my term’s up.  I’ll turn 70 the week before Election Day 2014, and I have some living to do. I don’t mind saying that I’d like to spend more time with my wife, Genie, and with my daughter Genevieve, son-in-law Matt, and two delicious granddaughters Sophie and Penelope. Not to men­tion more time hiking. I’ll miss the action here, the engagement on issues important to the extraordinary people of Southeast Seattle, and I’ll really miss your personal visits to my office, and the letters and e-mails you send me, telling me of the way in which state policy affects your lives.

I will not miss the name-calling, pettiness, and gamesmanship that have come to characterize politics—and I’ve witnessed an increasing tide of that in my 18 years. I will continue to urge Democrats to be Democrats, and urge Republicans to be the kind of conscientious and thoughtful Republicans that a 70-year-old might remember. Most importantly, I want to thank you, every voter in the District, on my side or not, for the opportunity to work on your behalf in the Senate. There’s an old Jewish saying: it is not required of us that we heal all the wounds of the world, but it is not ours to desist from the task. I’m confident that whomever you elect to replace me, it will be someone willing to engage. Tom Jefferson and Leon Trotsky agree: long after the revolution, the struggle continues.

Last session will go down in history as the Season in Hell, an entire spring, sunny and warm, spent waiting for our Senate Republican majority to come to terms with the responsibilities that come with majority status: actually governing. That includes pass­ing a budget that works, rather than simply excoriating “government spending.” After three biennia of No New Taxes, during which revenues shrank and expenditures were cut to the bone, a few of the more responsible Republicans finally conceded the need for new revenues, at least via the closure of five of the most egregious of our 400-plus tax loopholes. But responsible Republicans are a tiny minority of their Senate caucus, and do not include the agenda-setting leadership, hence the need for two extra 30-day sessions to break the budget impasse. It was almost the Fourth of July before the Leg­islature closed shop—and even then without a Transportation Funding package, which continues to founder over tax policy. (More on that below.) I enjoy the company of my colleagues immensely, but I can think of better ways to spend sunny days in May and June than to wait in my seat in the stuffy confines of the Democrats’ caucus room, when the only real action is behind the closed doors of the Republicans’ caucus room.

Due to the loss of an additional Senate seat in the 2013 off-year election, the Senate now has 26 Republicans to 23 Democrats. I am greatly concerned that now and per­haps in the near future, this majority will effectively bar the House and Governor from taking the actions needed to more fairly distribute tax burdens, to increase revenues from those most able to pay, and to more adequately fund the functions of state gov­ernment—especially K-12 and higher education that provide the basis for the social mobility on which the American dream is built. In the past, I confess, I used to think that the Senate, with its mostly older members and with four years between elections, was the greater source of wisdom and good sense, and that the House was more driven by its extreme members. Yeah, well.

This newsletter will go on long rambles about our struggle over funding urban tran­sit systems, including Metro, and bus/pedestrian projects; and how we’re doing okay in implementing Obamacare, but not so good in implementing the Supreme Court decision on funding Basic K-12 Education. Then a couple of shorter excursions: the questions left after our vote on the Boeing tax-breaks; and our ongoing campaign to lower the death-toll from drunk drivers.

You can read the rest of this newsletter here. Keep in touch!

Yours truly,

Senator Adam Kline

 

 

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

 

 

Initiative 517 is a Tim Eyman initiative that is on the November 2013 ballot in Washington State.  It is a measure to promote Tim Eyman’s  business – which is making a living off of putting conservative libertarian measures on the ballot.  In this case Eyman wants to create a 25 foot signature gathering zone around petitioners where people can not speak out and oppose his business. It is a direct infringement on the free speech rights of citizens, violating the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution.

Jason Mercier of the conservative “free market” Washington Policy Center writes about Initiative 517 in today’s Thedailyworld.com under a headline of “Heavy hitters line up against I-517“. Mercier in his opinion piece brushes aside some of the concerns about Eyman’s self serving initiative as non-controversial.  That is not the reality.

This measure is not as uncontroversial as Jason Mercier suggests. One of Eyman’s provisions is to create a 25 foot no harassment zone around signature gatherers.  There are already penalties for harassment that work just fine. I-517 tries to go much further by shutting down free speech activities around petition gatherers.

Eyman’s measure infringes on 1st amendment rights by setting up a 25 zone around petitioners saying that certain activity can result in disorderly conduct charges including activity that is “…intimidating, or maintaining an intimidating presence within twenty-five feet of any person gathering signatures”.  To most petitioners someone standing 5 feet away and carrying a sign saying “do not sign this measure” or merely saying out loud that citizens should read the measure before signing it causes petitioners to say they are being harassed.

This measure is an attempt to shut down public discourse and dialogue in  public places and silence those opposing Eyman’s measures.  This violates 1st amendment free speech rights and goes too far.  Eyman wants a free pass to collect signatures without anyone questioning him.  Trying to silence those that dissent peacefully with others is what you would expect in a totalitarian society, but not in America.

We will publish more of our concerns about Initiative 517 over the next few months but believe it goes too far.  The public strongly supply the initiative process in Washington State and it has been used by both right and left leaning groups in pushing Washington policy and law. But there is a balancing act necessary to protect rights of both supporters and opponents of specific initiative measures in the public arena.

Initiative 517 is a “solution” looking for a problem and there isn’t one in this case. Eyman has not had a problem getting initiatives on the ballot and neither have others, especially if they have money. This measure would make it easier for Eyman to get more of his measures on the ballot and that is why he is pushing it.

For progressives thinking this will make it easier for them to get measures on the ballot, the downside is that they will also have to spend more time fighting more conservative measures put on the ballot by Eyman, including those at the local level. It’s already hard enough to fight an Eyman measure year after year.  Think what it will be like with two or three Eyman measures on the ballot each year and 4 or 5 others at the same time at the local level.

We elect a Legislature to do the people’s business after public hearings and review.  While initiatives are a healthy outlet  for the public to act when the legislature doesn’t, running our state more and more by initiative puts the process of making our state laws up for sale to the highest bidder.

Unfortunately the highest bidder is usually corporate and special interests that can afford to spend millions to get their message out to the voting public.

 

 


									

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.

Tim Eyman’s latest proposed initiative continues his right wing libertarian approach to try to shut down state government.  He is proposing to limit tax increases to one year and push for repeated votes at tax payer expense for  minority rule that would let a 1/3 minority of Legislators run our state government by taking over the Washington State  Legislature.  It is a recipe for disaster.

Our current problem in the legislature is not one of over taxation but of out of control tax expenditures given by Legislators to special interests. The state has a revenue problem – giving away tax exemptions instead of collecting revenue.  See http://dor.wa.gov/docs/reports/2012/Exemption_study_2012/Intro_and_Summary_of_findings.pdf

Take B&O taxes listed in the 2012 State Tax Exemption Report -on B&O taxes on business – the state gave out 176 tax breaks totaling some $7.5 billion while collecting only $6.5 billion in revenue. The exemptions were 54% of the potential tax base.

The 2012 Tax Exemption Study also stated that in the 2011 – 2013 budget some $21 billion was collected in B&O taxes and sales/use taxes.  At the same time some $20 billion in these same taxes was not collected and was essentially an expenditure of state funds to support those that got the exemption.

The state currently has some 640 tax exemptions in place. Under a 2/3 Constitution Amendment tax expenditures could be put in place by a majority vote but would require a 2/3 vote to repeal.

A 2/3 vote constitutional amendment would lock in all these exemptions that are forcing higher taxes on those that pay and don’t get an exemption.  It is a recipe for disaster.

Eyman’s  anti-tax hysteria  borders on the ludicrous. It serves no purpose but to push a radical philosophy exposed by those like Grover Norquist and Tea Party fanatics to shut down government.  It is irresponsible and harmful to the state government and Washington State’s residents. It would prevent significant tax reform and benefit special interests and corporations while hurting those who need state help. It would prevent adequate funding of education and other essential state services.

People need to say NO to Eyman’s  continued anti-tax monologue. Enough is enough.

The following letter to the editor of the Seattle Times was posted on their website yesterday. I wrote the letter in response to their editorial on Sunday entitled, “State lawmakers should listen to voters on I-1185 and the two-thirds tax law.” The Washington State Supreme Court ruled on February 28, 2013 that requiring a supermajority vote of the Legislature to raise revenue or pass any other ordinary legislation was unconstitutional. The Seattle Times choose to editorialize on the issue against the decision of the Washington State Supreme Court. My response:

The Seattle Times in its recent editorial errs in it’s judgment that supermajority votes are somehow in the best interests of our state. Logic says that to require a supermajority vote to pass legislation means that the minority interest would trump the majority interest. Under Initiative 1185, if 17 State Senators out of 49 Senators said no to a revenue bill to fund education, they would prevail over any majority vote by both the state Senate and House.
As the state Supreme Court noted, “ … a supermajority requirement for ordinary legislation would allow special interests to control resulting legislation. While the current Supermajority Requirement applies only to tax increases, if carried to its logical conclusion, the State’s argument could allow all legislation to be conditioned on a supermajority vote. In other words, under the State’s reasoning, a simple majority of the people or the Legislature could require particular bills to receive 90 percent approval rather than just a two-thirds approval, thus essentially ensuring that those types of bills would never pass. Such a result is antithetical to the notion of a functioning government and should be rejected as such.”

The issue here is actually not just a tax issue but but an issue of how our State legislature functions and whether or not minority interests can impose roadblocks to the majority of Legislators doing their jobs. It is absurd that this supermajority requirement has hindered the Legislators from doing their job for the larger part of 20 years. Ever since voters passed I-601 by a small margin of 51% to 49% the problem has persisted, illustrating how by a simple majority vote could give a minority of 1/3 of the legislators in one House of the Legislature veto power over the majority.

As pointed out by the Washington State Supreme Court in their opinion:

“…allowing a supermajority requirement for ordinary legislation alters our system of government. The framers of the United States Constitution expressed as much in the Federalist papers:
If a pertinacious minority can controul the opinion of a majority respecting the best mode of conducting it; the majority in order that something may be done, must conform to the views of the minority; and  thus the sense of the smaller number will over-rule that of the greater.
THE FEDERALIST NO. 22, at 141 (Alexander Hamilton) (Jacob E. Cooke ed., 1961);
accord THE FEDERALIST No. 58 (James Madison).”

In a 6 to 3 decision this last week the Washington State Supreme Court ruled that that Tim Eyman’s  Initiative 1053′s supermajority provisions for passage of revenue measures by the State Legislature was unconstitutional. In fact it went beyond revenue measures and said any attempt to require supermajority votes not in the Washington State Constitution was unconstitutional.

The decision stated that, Article II, sec. 22 of the Washington State Constitution “prohibits either the people or legislature from passing legislation requiring more than a simple majority for the passage of tax legislation – or any other ordinary legislation”. Despite this language Majority Leader Rodney Tom in the Washington State Senate immediately tried to figure a way to change the Senate rules to require a two thirds vote to raise taxes by the Legislature.

On the same day the Court issued their opinion, the Olympian reported that Tom said:

“We’re going to stand behind the will of the people. They’ve been very clear that they want it to be difficult to raise taxes,” Tom said today.

The rule would require a two-thirds supermajority or a public vote to pass any tax increase.

And passing the rule would take only a simple majority of all senators, unlike a constitutional amendment that is much less likely to pass.

Seems that legal counsel finally convinced Tom that the Washington State Supreme Court ruling also applied in principle to any rule making by the Legislature. By that didn’t stop him from trying to consider it. Here’s what the Supreme Court said about allowing a 1/3 minority of Legislators to overrule a majority:

Article II, sec. 22  “prohibits either the people or legislature from passing legislation requiring more than a simple majority for the passage of tax legislation – or any other ordinary legislation.”…

They also stated  that) “The Supermajority Requirement unconstitutionally amends the constitution by imposing a two-thirds vote requirement for tax legislation.

More importantly, the Supermajority Requirement substantially alters our system of government, thus enabling a tyranny of the minority.”

The telling words here to listen to are not so much that requiring a supermajority vote to raise revenue was unconstitutional but that it allowed a 1/3 minority of legislators in one House of the Legislature to veto any majority vote of the rest of the Legislators. Under this system the minority vote prevails and the minority rules, not the majority.

It is a negation of the idea of one person one vote, saying that on revenue issues, including repealing any tax loopholes, that  a State Legislator opposed to raising revenue  had the equivalent of 2 votes for every one vote that a State legislator had that supported raising revenue. The result was that the No vote of 17 State senators out of 49 Senators could negate the Yes votes of 32 Senators.  The minority position would win out which is what happened in almost all cases in the State Legislature while the 2/3 voting mandate was in place.

One could similarly make an argument that incumbents have an unfair advantage in running for office and need to be term limited. The equivalent to I-1053 in this instance would be if the voters agreed and passed an initiative saying that any incumbent Legislator running needed to get a supermajority vote to win or his opponent would win. Following the logic of I-1053, if the incumbent got 64% of the vote, but did not receive the 2/3 supermajority vote, then his opponent would win, even though he only got 36% of the vote. The goal of limiting re-election of incumbents would be accomplished by this action which lets a minority of voters make the decision as to who gets elected. Most voters seeing the results would cry foul. Fortunately this example is also now void as the Washington State Supreme Court specifically noted that Article II, sec. 22 of the Washington State Constitution “prohibits either the people or legislature from passing legislation requiring more than a simple majority for the passage of tax legislation – or any other ordinary legislation (highlighting mine).

Tim Eyman and his corporate donors for I-1185 which voters passed this last November argued that raising taxes should be harder than passing other legislation and that was why they should prevail. This is a political philosophy that represents the conservative Republican position. Yet running on that position against Democrats they have not been able to elect a majority of Republicans to the House or Senate in recent years. This year two so called Democratic Legislators, Senator Rodney Tom of the 48th LD and Senator Tim Sheldon, joined with 23 Republicans to take over the State Senate.

There is a clear difference between Republicans and Democrats on this issue that still persists. Republicans and Rodney Tom in the Senate rapidly passed SJR 8205 – Amending the Constitution to require a two-thirds majority vote of the legislature to raise taxes,  out of the Ways and Means Committee to the Rules Committee, 2nd reading. Fortunately for those who agree that allowing a minority position to prevail over the votes of a majority is undemocratic, the State Constitution put amending the State Constitution in a select category of legislation requiring a 2/3 vote by both the Senate and the House and a majority vote of the people in order to pass.

The State Constitution is the framework of state government and as such should be more difficult to amend than passing a general law or raising revenue or repealing tax exemptions which the voters can put on the ballot by referendum or elect new legislators who can change the law.  The absurdity of Eyman’s I-1053 and I-1185 2/3 voting mandate was that it allowed Legislators to pass tax exemptions by a simple majority vote but required a 2/3 vote to repeal them.

Eyman’s measures were strongly supported by corporate business interests like BP Oil, Conoco Phillips, Association of Washington Business, the Beer Institute and others which sought to both avoid any business tax increases or repeal of any of their tax loopholes. It was a Corporate Tax Loophole Protection Act not an act which helped most residents in Washington State because it resulted in the inability of the Legislature to raise new revenue or reform our tax system.

As noted by the broad based Washington coalition called Our Economic Future we have now cut about $10 billion dollars from the State Budget.  State college tuition has doubled in 4 years. It now costs to go to State Parks. State employees and teachers have lost their jobs. Public K-12 education funding has gone down. All kinds of funding to help the needy, handicapped, kids, and unemployed have decreased.  The future of our state’s economy is under attack as businesses and corporations report record profits.  We need a balanced approach to taxation and funding to help the people of Washington State move into a better future.

Contact your State legislators today and urge them to oppose SJR 8205 – Amending the Constitution to require a two-thirds majority vote of the legislature to raise taxes.  Go to www.leg.wa.gov and let your Legislator know you oppose a Constitutional Amendment to give a minority of Legislators veto power over the majority.

 

Tim Eyman’s Initiative 517 was certified on January 23rd by the Washington Secretary of State’s office.  I-517  is an initiative to the legislature. If, as likely, the legislature chooses not to act on it, it will be placed on the November 5, 2013 ballot. The legislature has an option to put an alternative on the ballot with it.

The official ballot title and summary for I-517 is:

Ballot Title
Initiative Measure No. 517 concerns initiative and referendum measures.

This measure would set penalties for interfering with or retaliating against signature-gatherers and petition-signers; require that all measures receiving sufficient signatures appear on the ballot; and extend time for gathering initiative petition signatures.

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

Ballot Measure Summary
This measure would define terms concerning interfering with or retaliating against petition-signers and signature-gatherers, and would make such conduct a criminal misdemeanor and subject to anti-harassment laws. The measure would require that all state and local measures receiving enough signatures be placed on the ballot, limiting pre-election legal challenges. The measure would also extend the time for filing initiatives and gathering signatures from ten to sixteen months before the election when the vote would occur.

View Complete Text PDF

Initiative 517 is not needed and should be rejected by both the Washington State Legislature and the voters.

Initiative 517 – which Tim Eyman calls the “Protect the Initiative Act” is really the “Protect Tim Eyman’s Profit Machine Initiative“.   Tim started initiative efforts in 1995 and by 1999 they had become his primary business.  This is an initiative meant to increase Tim’s business of putting right wing conservative measures on the ballot in Washington State.

I-517 is Tim Eyman’s attempt to increase his initiative business to a year round activity, guarantee more markets for his initiatives by requiring cities and counties to put them on the ballot, and eliminate any opposition to people signing his measures by expanding anti harassment laws to try to unconstitutionally limit free speech rights of others.

As explained on the website opposing Initiative 517:

Initiative 517 has three main provisions:

  • It would double the period of time permitted for signature gathering for an initiative to the people, allowing Tim Eyman and his associates, Jack Fagan, Mike Fagan, Edward Agazarm and Roy Ruffino to make collecting signatures for initiatives to the people a more profitable and lucrative year-round business.
  • It attempts to prevent Washingtonians from exercising their First Amendment freedoms of speech and assembly in a “Decline to Sign” campaign by making it a misdemeanor to maintain an “intimidating presence” within “twenty-five feet of any person gathering signatures or any person trying to sign any initiative or referendum petition”.
  • It dubiously requires leaders of cities, counties, and other local jurisdictions that provide for their own initiative process to place any initiative with sufficient voter signatures on the ballot for a public vote at public expense, even if the initiative in question concerns a matter that exceeds the lawful scope of the local initiative power.

Laws already exist to deal with harassment within our state. What Eyman is proposing is to expand those laws so that anyone opposed to his initiatives would be prevented from coming with 25 feet of a petitioner. This is a violation of free speech. Because words like intimidation and harassment can take on many common meanings, the first amendment rights of citizens opposing a measure, such as merely urging people to read a measure  before signing it, could cause them to be subject to arrest.

USlegal.com for instance says the following about harassment, which should give any free speech advocates cause for concern regarding giving petitioners special rights superior to those of other citizens.

“Harassment is governed by state laws, which vary by state, but is generally defined as a course of conduct which annoys, threatens, intimidates, alarms, or puts a person in fear of their safety. Harassment is unwanted, unwelcomed and uninvited behavior that demeans, threatens or offends the victim and results in a hostile environment for the victim. Harassing behavior may include, but is not limited to, epithets, derogatory comments or slurs and lewd propositions, assault, impeding or blocking movement, offensive touching or any physical interference with normal work or movement, and visual insults, such as derogatory posters or cartoons. 

Now the problem is that of course anyone who stands say 5 feet away from a petitioner with a sign that says “Read this initiative before you sign it. It is a terrible initiative” or something to that effect would obviously “annoy” a petitioner. The petitioner could consider it a “derogatory poster”. The petitioner could consider it a “hostile environment”. But if the sign holder is not physically assaulting a petitioner or blocking a petitioner from having people sign a petition, why should the sign holder lose his right of free speech. Why should he be harassed and threatened with being arrested. Tolerance and fairness is required on both sides. Free speech for all is guaranteed under the US Constitution, not just those on one side of an issue.

Eyman wants to create a special class of free speech rights for paid petitioners so he can, without public debate, more easily secure a place on the ballot. It is his business and he is asking for special rights for helping his business put more money in his pocket. Next he will be claiming that only his side should be able to speak publicly at public forums regarding the merits of an initiative since anyone speaking against his initiative  is “harassing”him.

As former Secretary of State Sam Reed wrote in his official statement in 2012 on the secretary of state’s website regarding “Filing Initiatives and Referenda in Washington State”

“Do I have the right to urge people not to sign a petition?
Yes, as a matter of freedom of speech. Opponents of an initiative or referendum can certainly express the opinion that it would not be a  good idea for a voter to sign a petition. An opponent, however, does
not have the right to interfere with the petition process. In fact, it is a gross misdemeanor to interfere with somebody else’s right to sign a petition, and there are also laws against assaulting people. You can certainly express your opinion, but you must remember that other people have rights to their opinions as well, including the right to sign petitions you may not like.
This principle works both ways, of course. Neither side of an initiative or referendum campaign has the right to prevent the other from expressing opinions.”   

Here is part of the  language Eyman is proposing to add

(1) A person is guilty of disorderly conduct if the person: …

(e) Interferes with or retaliates against a person collecting signatures or signing any initiative or referendum petition by pushing, shoving, touching, spitting, throwing objects, yelling, screaming, being verbally abusive, blocking or intimidating, or other tumultuous conduct or maintaining an intimidating presence within twenty-five feet of any person gathering signatures or any person trying to sign any initiative or referendum petition. (2) Disorderly conduct is a misdemeanor. 

So most of the language would fall under current harassment law but “the maintaining an intimidating presence within twenty-five feet of any person gathering signatures or any person trying to sign an initiative or referendum petition” is so vague and subjective that it can easily be abused by any petitioner who wants to stop anyone opposing them .  This proposed initiative is not needed and is a threat to free speech.  It is frankly unconstitutional .

Chances are pretty good that another Tim Eyman initiative will be on next year’s ballot. It’s been under the radar and has gotten little scrutiny.  Initiative 517 - called the “Protect the Initiative Act” is an initiative to the Legislature. It’s basic provisions are to extend the time allowed  to collect signatures by an extra six months, make it a misdemeanor to interfere or harass signature gatherers, allow more local initiatives  and prevent pre-election legal challenges to initiatives. The deadline to collect signatures and turn them in is January 3rd, 2013.

Eyman filed I-517 on May 4th, 2012 and quietly piggybacked it on his I-1185 campaign signature gathering efforts. As noted in the Tacoma News Tribune on September 6, 2012,  a complaint was filed with the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission charging that as a result of this piggybacking, I-517 illegally used money intended to pay for Eyman’s I-1185 signatures. The TNT noted that  “Through July alone, the campaign picked up 144,000 signatures …” of some 320,000 required by Jan 3, 2013. To date the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) has not acted publicly on this complaint. One can well argue that this is a self serving initiative to benefit Tim Eyman and his initiative business. It is special interest legislation that would give Eyman the ability to do more initiative campaigns and at a lower cost. That is hardly what Washington State needs – more Eyman initiatives.

According to the most recent Public Disclosure Commission reports, Eyman has raised no money to fund this initiative.  Instead he reports that all the signature gathering to date paid for has been in kind donations by others. The bulk of the money spent in kind has been by an out of state conservative foundation called  – Citizens in Charge out of Lakeridge, VA. To date they have donated in kind some $168,806.38 out of a total of $305,454 reported in kind total. Here is a breakdown of reported in kind donations from the PDC reports.

Citizens in Charge, Lakeridge, VA – $168, 806.38

People’s Petitioning, Edmonds, WA – $42,712

First Amendment, LLC, Olympia, WA – $7267.50

The remainder of the money, some $86,305 is now listed as individual in kind donations, mostly by paid signature gatherers. This is Eyman’s  attempt to get around the complaint that signature gatherers for I-1185 subsidized signature gathering for I-517. The problem is, if you read some of the e-mails involved, that appears to be a big question. Paid signature gatherers for I-1185 were told among other things that they had to also get signatures for I–517 or they would be fired.  Here is that part of the story as reported by the Tacoma News Tribune:

The PDC is investigating whether I-517 illegally used part of the money intended for I-1185.

That’s what’s alleged by critics such as Rick Walther. The Auburn signature gatherer says he was fired for refusing to reduce payments to his subcontractors for I-1185 signatures unless they also collected for I-517.

He said he and other gatherers were expected to take the money out of what had already been promised to them for the business-backed measure.

“All this money’s still coming from 1185,” Walther said of the arrangements. “There’s no new money for 517. They’re just moving funds around.”

The campaign denies using any money from I-1185 – instead leaning on petitioners’ interest in the topic to drive a volunteer effort. …

Directing the I-517 effort is Edward Agazarm, nicknamed “Eddie Spaghetti,” a fixture of Washington’s ­voter-petition industry.

His emails don’t exactly make it sound like a volunteer effort.

“If you don’t bring in equal numbers you are fired,” Agazarm wrote to another ­signature-gathering contractor, in what critics say is an order to collect a voter signature on I-517 for every signature petitioners were paid to collect on I-1185.

“Every petitioner in the state should get free SIGNATURES ON IT or else they should be fired, then stoned to death in a public square,” he said in another email.

So one has to ask why the PDC has not yet acted on this complaint with formal charges of some sort or referred the matter to the State Attorney General for more severe action than the PDC can impose.  The e-mails are pretty explicit that paid signature gatherers were coerced into collecting signatures for I-517 in order to be paid  for I-1185 signatures. Will Eyman  once again just get a slap on the wrist and continue on his merry way carrying on his initiative mill that helps pay his personal bills or will the PDC act forcefully by referring this matter to the Washington State Attorney General?

Here is more specific information on I-517:

Protect the Initiative Act
Ballot Title
Initiative Measure No. 517 concerns initiative and referendum measures.This measure would set penalties for interfering with or retaliating against signature-gatherers and petition-signers; require that all measures receiving sufficient signatures appear on the ballot; and extend time for gathering initiative petition signatures.Should this measure be enacted into law? Yes [ ] No [ ]Ballot Measure Summary
This measure would define terms concerning interfering with or retaliating against petition-signers and signature-gatherers, and would make such conduct a criminal misdemeanor and subject to anti-harassment laws. The measure would require that all state and local measures receiving enough signatures be placed on the ballot, limiting pre-election legal challenges. The measure would also extend the time for filing initiatives and gathering signatures from ten to sixteen months before the election when the vote would occur.View Complete Text
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