The Politics Blog

UPDATE - Rep. Hunt, Sen. Frockt sizing up Eyman's advisory ballot votes for repeal

OlympianNovember 16, 2013 

This post is revised to note Sam Hunt is the lead proponent of this legislative change.

It looks like Democrats in the Legislature are ready to take shots at one of the vestiges of Tim Eyman's Initiative 960, which the courts found had unconstitutional elements. Still standing is the provision requiring that tax laws enacted by the Legislature go onto the fall ballot just to see what they think. The votes are not binding, and voters affirmed three of five such tax questions this year.

Democratic Rep. Sam Hunt of Olympia is drafting legislation to repeal the advisory vote requirement on grounds it is confusing and costs money. Hunt chairs the House Government Operations and Elections Committee and said he plans a work session on the repeal idea at 10 a.m. Friday [Nov. 22] in Olympia.

Thurston County elections officials have said they heard there was a lot of voter confusion about the non-binding votes, and Hunt heard the same.

"That was the biggest thing I got called about in the election season: 'What are these?' " Hunt recalled people telling him.

Besides the staunch opposition from a few Senate Republicans that co-sponsored Eyman's anti-tax initiatives, Hunt may need a two-thirds supermajority vote to repeal the tax advisories. That is because two years have not yet elapsed since voters re-upped Eyman's measure in 2012.

The advisory ballot measures tend to fatten the public-paid voters pamphlets and cost taxpayers some money. 

Brian M. Rosenthalhad a story at the Seattle Times that notes the nonbinding votes cost $130,000 to put on the ballot this year. That's small in the scheme of a $30 billion-plus state operating budget but the story quotes Democratic Sen. David Frockt of Seattle as saying the advisory measures are "confusing, out of context and downright stupid.''

Hunt said Saturday that Frockt has agreed to sponsor his measure in the Senate.

Eyman, a professional promoter of initiatives, likes the advisory votes because they list the names of lawmakers who voted for taxes. He's not entirely alone: voters did approve the idea as part of his initiative requiring two-thirds supermajority votes to pass tax increases in the Legislature. 

The advisory ballots are a bit selective, though. They don't require votes on tax breaks offered to interest groups - like aerospace companies, even those that receive $8.7 billion in tax breaks.

And some of the taxes subject to advisory votes don't increase taxes in a substantial way, but are a reenactment of taxes that have sprung loopholes due to court decisions. An example was the estate tax overhaul that passed the Legislature this year, which voters affirmed.

Republicans who pull the most strings in the state Senate are not likely to let the bill go anywhere. Hunt said Saturday he knows Sen. Pam Roach, the Republican who chairs the Senate committee that handles elections matters, could block his effort - just as she rejected other bills he got passed through the House earlier this year.

But this looks like something the divided Legislature can argue about in January.

Stay tuned.

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