Washington voters studying their Nov. 7 ballots may be confused initially. At the top are three tax advisory questions that are confusing and completely meaningless.
Advisory Votes 16, 17 and 18 all address bills enacted by the Legislature earlier this year, which labored for months to pass a K-12 school funding plan that is legal under the state Constitution.
But anyone voting yes or no is wasting his or her time. The votes don’t count. Which is why we left this out of our endorsements roundup published Sunday.
The best option is to skip the questions and move down the ballot to mark one’s preferences for local candidates and issues, which appear lower. These are votes that might actually make a difference.
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It’s also a good idea to follow up and ask the 2018 state Legislature to change the law and get rid of the advisory questions.
It’s not just us saying this. Auditors and elections officials from Washington’s 39 counties all agree advisory questions are a waste of time and money. The Washington State Association of County Auditors Association’s list of legislative priorities includes asking legislators to eliminate the advisory votes.
“Tax Advisory votes have been in effect since 2012. These measures have no effect, occupy a large area of the ballot, are confusing to voters, and appear in the wrong order on the ballot,” says the WSACA list of nearly a dozen legislative priorities for 2018.
“I think candidates should be first in this state. (Advisories) should not be on the ballot,’’ says Thurston County Auditor Mary Hall, who serves on the auditor group’s legislative committee.
Hall said voters call her office and “are very confused. People are not sure the purpose for them. When we say they are non-binding, they don’t understand.”
Hall also notes that some voters may not fill out any of the ballot because the advisory measures come first. That may also discourage some from voting at all — which is a concern in an election this year that Hall expects to draw only 35 percent to 40 percent turnout.
Hall thinks candidates should come first on the ballot.
“This year the only reason the state put out a (printed) voter pamphlet was because of the advisory ballot,” Hall added.
Taxpayer costs for the state voter guide are expected to be about $572,000, based on preliminary figures given to Secretary of State Kim Wyman’s office by the state Department of Enterprise Services.
Think of this wasted money as the Eyman Tax. The advisory questions are on the ballot solely as a remnant of Eyman’s Initiative 960.
I-960 was ruled unconstitutional by Washington courts because it sought to impose a two-thirds super-majority requirement on the Legislature each time it voted to pass tax increases. But in striking down the vote requirement, the Supreme Court left the advisory measures in law.
Now Eyman is asking voters to mark “no” for each of the nonbinding tax questions.
That part is no surprise. Eyman opposes any tax that isn’t approved by voters — and he even opposes taxes that voters do approve. Yet his just-say-no approach is contrary to what Eyman’s fellow Republicans in the Legislature did this year by approving House Bill 2242. That big school funding “reform” measure raised the state share of the property tax by billions of dollars.
At the same time, this new tax money is actually leading to a net tax cut in many school districts which had large local tax levies. In fact, some GOP lawmakers who backed this historic shift away from local property tax levies for schools have said the legislation is a tax cut for property owners in rural, tax-poor school districts.
As a result voters should be confused, and that raises another reason to regard the advisory tax votes as a waste of time. No one can be sure what voters will have meant whether they vote yes or no.
So let’s cut a little government waste, stick it to Eyman, and change the law.