We detect a troubling development in Washington state politics. Call it the rise of extortion politics — as in, give me what I want or I’ll really hurt you.
First case in point is professional initiative promoter Tim Eyman. He’s back this year with hardball tactics on a tax-restricting proposal, Initiative 1366. Similarly, Senate majority Republicans put a “poison pill” in the new transportation tax package to punish Gov. Jay Insle’s pro-transit allies if he took certain regulatory actions on climate change.
I-1366 proposes to cut $1 billion a year in sales taxes from state budgets. Generous man that he is, Eyman is willing to stop that from happening, but only if lawmakers meet his nonnegotiable demand (and his real goal). That is to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot in 2016. The amendment would require the Legislature to muster a two-thirds vote to pass any tax increase or to close any tax exemption or loophole.
Eyman wants a constitutional amendment, because the state Supreme Court says he can’t require a two-thirds vote for taxes with an initiative. Ironically, he’s been unable to persuade a two-thirds supermajority of the House and Senate to put it on the ballot. Thus he resorts to extortion.
Eyman had a similar proposal in the past that failed to get enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, but state elections officials verified that it has enough valid voter signatures to win a spot on the November ballot.
We hope this doesn’t signal a new modus operandi for Eyman or his Republican allies. But it might be a trend. The Senate’s Republican majority’s poison pill in the $16 billion state transportation tax package contained an extorted policy that Inslee signed into law two weeks ago.
In their zeal to stop Inslee, once dubbed the “greenest governor” in the country, from a major accomplishment on his signature issue, climate change, the Republicans blocked his ability to even start a rule-making process for a clean-fuels standard. This was a failing in what overall was a badly needed roads and transit package that ends years of stalemate on major projects that need completing.
The poison pill could have caused serious damage if Inslee had swallowed it, an option he claimed he was seriously considering: More than $1 billion earmarked for transit, trails and other nonroad uses in the transportation package would have been impounded for use on roads if his Department of Ecology began writing a rule to require a cleaner fuels mix.
On Tuesday, Inslee found a way around the Senate. He opted to instead ask Ecology to write rules that would impose a cap on carbon emissions.
A cap is one piece of the California-style, cap-and-trade proposal that Inslee proposed to lawmakers. The Senate GOP, many of its members backed by oil interests in the last election, flatly rejected the plan, and House Democrats warmed to the idea but never put Inslee’s pollution-fee proposal to a vote.
As Inslee pointed out in a meeting this week with our editorial board, Washington has carbon reduction targets written into state law that won’t be reached by 2020 without action that the Republican Senate was blocking.
Many details need to be fleshed out around Inslee’s cap proposal, which his staff predicts will take more than a year to develop. Business groups immediately complained that Inslee was resorting to executive action, which President Barack Obama has done for greenhouse gases emitted by power plants.
But what’s unfolding here is a governor is standing up to special interests to force action against global warming. Senate Republicans tried to dodge this issue by suggesting an incentives approach could do the job.
It’s easy to understand the governor’s motivation, though many are criticizing it.
At some point leaders must stand and resist coercion by special interests. Just as voters and lawmakers should do in the case of Eyman.