King County court rescues state on I-1366

A judge in King County struck a blow for common sense and constitutional law on Thursday by striking down Initiative 1366. This was the flawed tax-control measure from Tim Eyman, which was paid for by wealthy donors.

Voters narrowly approved it statewide last November. Voters in Thurston, King and a few other counties had the sense to reject it.

In a nutshell I-1366 proposed to cut $1.4 billion in sales tax revenue for the state unless lawmakers put a constitutional amendment on the fall ballot. The amendment would require two-thirds, supermajority votes in the House and Senate to pass any tax increase.

Tax cuts for special interests who donate to Eyman could still secure special treatment in the tax code with simple majorities.

Eyman has appealed and this case now needs a Supreme Court ruling to end the argument.

In rejecting the initiative, Superior Court Judge William L. Downing found it had numerous legal flaws. One is that it had more than a single subject (in this case tax cuts or an amendment to the Constitution). Another is that interferes with the powers of the Legislature by imposing exactly the terms of the constitutional amendment that it wants sent to voters.

We’ve written before about what a disaster I-1366 would be. It would cut $8 billion from budgets over the next few budget cycles at a time the Legislature is looking under couch cushions for any money it can find for K-12 schools.

Recent polling shows the public supports the idea of asking voters to enshrine a two-thirds tax threshold.

But the idea is a bad one. Overall, it is a recipe for even greater gridlock than what we saw last year when the Legislature spent 176 days in session (including three special sessions).

House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan said his Democratic caucus would not let Eyman’s proposed constitutional amendment go to the ballot.

If lawmakers ever did agree to put a two-thirds tax vote amendment on the ballot and voters foolishly approved it, any sensible changes to Washington state’s regressive tax policy could be blocked by just 17 die-hard votes in the Senate.

We would be forever locked into a tax system in which the lower your income, the bigger share of it would be paid in taxes.

And wealthy donors wanting to block tax hikes could protect their tax privileges by simply pouring millions of dollars into the campaigns of just 17 senators.

The Legislature won a bit of freedom last week. Often handcuffed by special interests, lawmakers should now move on to more productive issues than trying to figure out how to escape from the leg irons of an Eyman initiative.