Taxation Tim Eyman Washington State Politics

The Ball Is in the Legislature's Court

The Democrats have to make the case for raising taxes.

Brendan Williams is a former state rep from the 22nd District, and an inconsolable left-winger.

Successful government demands voter participation and holding elected officials accountable for their acts. This citizen responsibility cannot be abdicated in favor of gimmicks like requiring insurmountable votes to take legislative actions, as was true with our state’s voter-passed requirement of a two-thirds majority to pass tax increases or even close tax loopholes.

Voters’ hearts and minds are not won over by suing them. It is now incumbent upon state leaders to make the case as to why additional revenue is necessary. Yet, heartening though the Washington Supreme Court’s Thursday decision (in the League of Education Voters et al. case) to invalidate that requirement may be to defenders of constitutional law, it shifts a significant responsibility back to the Legislature and to Governor Jay Inslee.

Voters’ hearts and minds are not won over by suing them. It is now incumbent upon state leaders to make the case as to why additional revenue is necessary.  To date, that’s a case they have been able to avoid making – in part by blaming Tim Eyman and the constraints his initiatives have placed upon them.   Those days are over.

To some degree, in its earlier McCleary decision, the court made the case for legislators. It has ruled in favor of the need for the legislature to meet its constitutional duty to fund K-12 education. Had it upheld the two-thirds majority requirement, it would have made the fulfillment of that constitutional duty impossible. The challenge now is that Sen. Rodney Tom’s (D-48, Medina) senate coalition has effectively suggested it will avoid obeying the constitution unless a number of bills wholly unrelated to education funding–gutting public pensions or overturning century-old industrial insurance protections—are passed.  That’s a Faustian bargain.

Further, even assuming those predicates were satisfied, and the Senate relented on some measure of new revenue, voters still retain the power, through referendum, to repeal taxes—as they did in 2010 at the behest of the soda pop industry. The burden of educating them as to why new revenue is necessary cannot be avoided. Further, that burden extends beyond education funding alone—patently-immoral social services cuts loom unless revenue is increased. Democrats must not be afraid to talk in terms of morality.  It is not a field Republicans occupy. Is it moral to refuse to extend an expiring beer tax surcharge instead of funding long-term care, for example?

(Senate Republicans today introduced bills to create new tax exemptions for mint growers and charter schools).

The burden extends beyond education funding alone—patently-immoral social services cuts loom unless revenue is increased.To the credit of Gov. Inslee, he had never ruled out closing tax loopholes or extending expiring taxes—and house and Senate democrats have also had the courage to discuss new revenue. In a date that may live in infamy, on March 20 the Washington Economic and Revenue Forecast Council will project the future revenue upon which our next biennial state budget will be predicated. Likely it will do so amidst federal sequestration, which means it will be a dire forecast indeed. Even if the legislature adjourned to await the June 27 forecast to base its budget upon (and that assumes sequestration ever ends), the need for new revenue for our next budget will at least be greater and may, in fact, be apocalyptic.

As sequestration itself has shown, cans kicked down the road have a way of turning into oil drums that will break your toes.  We’re long past that point on state revenue.

Legislature: It’s your move.

Originally published at Publicola.

Comments

comments