What’s wrong with Washington State voters? And how can we educate them?
Washington State voters approved Tim Eyman’s latest initiative I-1366 by 51.5% to 48.5% (http://results.vote.wa.gov/results/current/State-Measures-Initiative-Measure-No-1366-concerns-state-taxes-and-fees.html).
How many of them realized that the initiative makes it very difficult to eliminate tax loopholes (“preferences”) for special interests?
How many of them realized that the state is under court order to find billions of additional dollars to fund education?
Even the Seattle Times recommended voting against I-1366.
There were four (non-binding) advisory votes on the ballot this year. These measures asked the voters whether they wanted to Maintain or Repeal fee increases and tax-preference repeals passed by the legislature. Voters advised maintaining two of the measures; they advised rejecting the other two.
- Advisory Vote No. 10 Engrossed Substitute House Bill 1449 (oil transportation fees) — Maintained (48.7% voted to repeal)
- Advisory Vote No. 11 Second Substitute Senate Bill 5052 — (marijuana excise tax extended to medical marijuana sales) Maintained (41.3% voted to repeal)
- Advisory Vote No. 12 Second Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 5987 — (transportation fees and taxes) Repealed (64.9% voted to repeal)
- Advisory Vote No. 13 Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 6138 — (eliminates tax preferences for royalties and certain manufacturing equipment) Repealed (63.4% voted to repeal)
Did the voters who voted to repeal Senate Bill 6138 know what they were voting about?
SB 6138 was sponsored by Republican Senator Andy Hill, the head budget negotiator for the Republicans. In the GOP-controlled Senate, SB 6138 passed with 35 yays, 10 nays, and 4 excused. In the state House 60 representatives voted for SB 6138; 38 representatives voted against it. But voters overwhelmingly voted to continue the tax preference.
According to the Seattle Times, HB 6138 repealed a tax break for Microsoft.
In the next two years, the change will boost Microsoft’s state tax bill by $57 million, the state estimates. Over four years, the company will pay an additional $128 million.
That’s pocket change for a company that reported revenue of nearly $87 billion and profit of $22 billion in fiscal year 2014. But it was among the largest tax exemptions closed by state lawmakers this year — and the only one that singled out one corporation.
While Microsoft executives have pushed the state to better fund its transportation and education systems, the company has at times been slammed by critics who point to its efforts to lower its tax burden — including by shifting its software-licensing unit to Nevada in the 1990s.
GeekWire confirms that SB 6138 repeals a Microsoft tax break.
So, why did a large majority of voters opine that the tax break should be re-instated? Are they so eager to aid Microsoft and starve the state of money?
Part of the reason is probably the language that appeared on the ballot, due to Eyman’s I-960:
The language in the ballot suggests that the bills cost the citizens money. In fact, the bills helped most citizens by eliminating special-interest tax breaks. Indeed, Tim Eyman’s “advisory votes” are really costly, deceptive, and unconstitutional push polls.
The voters are clearly voting against their own self-interest and need to be better educated about the issues.
Perhaps many voters hate or mistrust government and believe the right wing talking points about government being wasteful and harmful.
Yet the voters are correct to be angry about the high sales tax rate in Washington State. The sales tax would be lower if the tax system were fairer. But voters rejected an income tax in 2010 (I-1098), not understanding that the sales tax is worse for them.
Only seven states lack a state income tax: Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington and Wyoming.
California voters have given up their anti-tax mentality. Washington voters haven’t.
Of course, part of the problem is low voter turnout. But is there any evidence that the non-voting public would vote more reasonably than the voting public? Angry voters are more likely to vote, and since most citizens are uninformed about the unfairness of our tax system, most citizens aren’t angry enough — or are angry at the wrong institutions and people.
Republicans now control the state Senate. This year the Democrats lost another House seat (the 30th LD in Federal Way) and have just a 50 to 48 majority there. Partly, this is a nationwide phenomenon. Republicans control a huge majority of legislatures and governorships.
Democrats will continue losing elections — and harmful initiatives like I-1366 will continue to pass — until the (Democratic) political establishment in Washington State stops wimping out and begins loudly educating the voters about how our regressive tax system unfairly favors the well-to-do and about why we need strong government.
Maybe Bernie Sanders will help educate the voters.
Neither Governor Gregoire nor Governor Inslee has spoken out loudly about the issue. It’s understandable that Inslee is silent on the issue, since he’s worried about next year’s election. But why don’t ex-governors Gregoire, Locke, and Lowry speak up about it, along with civic leaders such as Bill Gates, Senior? And what about the many other retired politicians?