Everyone makes mistakes. Voters and legislatures make them, too. That’s why we have courts — to cull the legal apple barrel and toss out bad laws that violate the Constitution.
In Tuesday’s election, Washington voters erred in giving approval to Initiative 1366. It’s a bad apple that needs to be thrown out by the state Supreme Court.
The measure is in essence a blackmail or coercion scheme from tax rebel Tim Eyman that would — if it survives as law — throw our state Legislature into a deeper tangle than the one that kept it in town for a record six months earlier this year.
In a nutshell, I-1366 demands that legislators put a constitutional amendment on the ballot that locks in a two-thirds supermajority requirement for future tax increases, or guarantees a binding public vote on every tax hike.
If lawmakers refuse or simply can’t get the votes by next spring, I-1366 lops a penny off the state’s 6.5 cents-per-dollar sales tax.
A penny sounds small, but it’s worth $1.4 billion a year for K-12 schools, prisons and other government operations at a time the Legislature is under pressure from the Supreme Court to make better investments in basic education.
Voters have now said a half-dozen times they like the two-thirds idea. But that fact does not change the truth that it is a recipe for gridlocked government.
Fortunately there are reasons to think I-1366 won’t have a long or happy life.
Judge Dean Lum in King County Superior Court said in an August ruling, which freed I-1366 to go on the ballot, that it faced a substantial likelihood of being tossed out as an unconstitutional way to amend the state Constitution.
One problem cited by Lum is that I-1366 lays out the exact amendment Eyman wants lawmakers to pass. Add in the threat of revenue losses and it raises questions about how free the House and Senate are to propose amendments as the Constitution assumes. In other words, it’s coercion.
Critics also have noted that I-1366 has multiple subjects that may violate the single-subject rule that has doomed other Eyman measures since 1999.
Despite our disappointment in voters, we can take some solace in knowing that I-1366 was rejected in the more savvy communities of Thurston County and King County, which are our seats of government and commerce, respectively.
At the same time, it’s obvious that voters have some legitimate reasons to want more limits on taxation. Tax burdens have actually fallen in Washington over the past decade, and the burden per $1,000 of personal income ranks Washington in the lower third of states.
But individual voters haven’t noticed. A reason many feel over-taxed is that our state and local tax system is upside down, exempting income, capital gains and other financial transactions in a way that benefits the wealthy and upper-middle class. The result is that the highest relative tax burden falls on those who are middle-income or low-income — the biggest share of voters.
Fixing that system, dubbed the most regressive or burdensome for the poor of any state in the nation, requires a political consensus that will be very hard to achieve, even with a simple majority requirement for changes to the tax system.
I-1366 locks in place this terribly unfair tax system. And it hands veto power over taxes to a small minority — 17 state senators or 33 representatives.
When it gets its chance, the Supreme Court should do the right thing and dump this stinker where it belongs.