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 said five separate tax bills merit a place on the ballot as advisory votes, thanks to the fine print of conservative activist Tim Eyman’s tax-limiting measure, Initiative 960.
The outcome on the five measures won’t change a thing in law, and costs of putting the tax-bill language and lists of all lawmakers’ votes are expected to add $240,000 to taxpayers’ elections costs, according to David Ammons, spokesman for the Office of the Secretary of State.
Ferguson’s office put out a news release listing the five tax bills approved by the Legislature in 2013 that qualify for the advisory ballot under I-960:
• ESHB 1846, which exempts some pediatric dental services from the insurance premiums tax but subjects to certain oral services to the tax if they are required minimum coverage under the Affordable Care Act
• 2E2SHB 1971, which ends a tax exemption for home telephone service and revamps the tax rates to bring parity to the taxation of cell, Internet and other telecommunication services (except satellite services)
• EHB 2075, which reimposes an estate tax with a new carve-out for certain family-owned business assets while raising the top rate for larger estates to 20 percent; the bill was described by lawmakers as revenue neutral or not raising tax receipts
• SSB 5444, which ends certain leasehold excise tax credits and ends a requirement for county assessors to determine the value of publicly owned property not leased privately
• SB 5627, which establishes a new aircraft excise tax structure for the state’s three commuter air carriers – with a weight-based tax ranging from $500 to $4,000 per year
State lawmakers also approved a dozen tax exemptions in 2013 – either creating them anew or extending ones that were about to lapse. But under I-960, those 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 – among other interests) 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.’’
Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688 firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @bradshannon2