It won’t count, but voters once again will get a chance to weigh in on the Legislature’s tax votes in November. Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s legal team says five separate tax bills merit a place on the ballot as advisory votes because they lead to additional tax deposits in the treasury.
Among the tax measures are a reenactment and revision of the estate tax and a significant reform of the telecom tax structure that ends a tax break for home-phone service. Both measures were changed in response to state Supreme Court rulings.
The beauty-contest treatment for taxes is required due to the fine print of Tim Eyman’s tax-limiting measure, Initiative 960, which voters approved in 2007. The measure was better known for requiring a two-thirds vote to pass taxes in the Legislature, but the Supreme Court ruling that struck down the two-thirds vote this year left the other piece in place.
Putting the tax-bill language on the ballot - with lists of all lawmakers’ votes on the measures - is expected to add $240,000 to the taxpayers’ elections costs, according David Ammons, spokesman for the Office of the Secretary of State.
Here is an excerpt of the AG's news release that lists the five tax bills approved by the Legislature in 2013 that qualify for the advisory ballot this year:
Under Initiative 960, legislation is subject to an advisory vote if it raises taxes —meaning that it “increases state tax revenue deposited into any fund, budget, or account,” and if it is not otherwise subject to a referendum vote. Fee increases are not subject to advisory votes.
The following legislation was identified as subject to an advisory vote in the November 2013 general election:
• ESHB 1846: Insurance—Stand Alone Dental Coverage
• 2E2SHB 1971: Communication Services
• EHB 2075: Education Legacy Trust Account—Estate and Transfer Tax
• SSB 5444: Property Assessments—Publicly Owned Property
• SB 5627: Taxes—Commuter Air Carriers
State lawmakers also approved a dozen tax exemptions this year – either creating them anew or extending tax breaks that were due to lapse. But under I-960, measures carving out tax relief (for investment companies, companies that outfit the interiors of large jets, dairy products sold out of state, and fuel used by mills) do not qualify for voter comment.
Voters rejected two measures up for advisory votes on the 2012 ballot, which cost taxpayers about $100,000 to place on the ballot. Eyman said in an interview Tuesday that the money is well spent, even if the votes are not binding, because lawmakers know their actions will be made public.
“If you know you’re going to get caught doing something bad, the less likely you will do something bad,’’ Eyman said. “It forces legislators to be thinking, this November my constituents will know how I voted on this bill.’’
He added that “$250,000 is chump change to let the voters know which taxes were increased and how legislators voted on the bill. I wish they hadn’t raised taxes at all so there wouldn’t be any advisory votes on the ballot this fall.’’
UPDATE: Andrew Villeneuve of the left-of-center Northwest Progressive Institute, said Eyman's characterization is wrong. He said elections-agency budgets are already strained and that Eyman's advisory votes just add to the problem.
"Tim Eyman's comments today again show that his real objective is weakening and destroying government, not making it function more efficiently," Villeneuve wrote in an email to reporters. "Our Constitution provides for three kinds of statewide ballot measures: initiatives, referenda, and constitutional amendments. The Constitution does not authorize advisory votes. Consequently, I-960's advisory vote scheme is unconstitutional in addition to being wasteful. It was purposely engineered to clutter up our ballots and give Eyman more fodder for emails to reporters."