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Washington Voters Rein in Big Gov’t

by Barry Poulson

In the November election, Washington citizens approved Initiative I-1053 by a more than 64 percent margin, requiring that “Legislative actions raising taxes must be approved by two thirds legislative majorities or receive voter approval.”

In other words, Washingtonians have elected to reign in their legislature’s ability to further tax them through a simple majority vote, and to have more say, at least temporarily, over how much state government is enough.

Washington voters approved a similar measure in 2007; it squeaked by with by a 51 percent margin. As quickly as the law allows (a two year waiting period in Washington) the initiative was temporarily repealed by the legislature until July 2011. Legislators argued this was necessary in order to increase taxes through a simple majority and close a budget deficit.

Initiative I-1053 reinstates the statutory requirement that legislative actions raising taxes must be approved by a supermajority vote of the legislature or receive voter approval. The initiative also requires that new or increased fees receive a supermajority of the legislature for approval.

The initiative was supported by a broad cross section of Washington businesses. The Board of Directors of the Washington Association of Business (AWB) voted unanimously to support the measure. AWB President Don Brunell stated that “Taxes and increased costs on business are the top issue of concern for our members right now. This fall’s elections will undoubtedly be about the impact of taxes on families and businesses. Our Board felt strongly enough about the measure to provide an early endorsement, in the hopes of raising the visibility of the issue among voters.”

Legislators who opposed I-1053 argued that citizens should leave tax and spending decisions to them. Gov. Christine Gregoire said of Tim Eyman, the sponsor of I- 1053: “For those like him who want to have a say constantly, come on down and run for election. Otherwise, leave it to us.”

But citizens in Washington have learned that a simple majority vote of the legislature is too easy a hurdle to raise taxes. Too often legislators respond to the special interests that benefit from higher taxes and increased spending.

The increase in citizen support for this measure from slightly more than half in 2007 to more than two thirds this year is very revealing. It is not surprising that legislators in Washington were not able to increase taxes while this constraint was in place. Securing a two-thirds vote of the legislature, or voter approval, is a high hurdle to raise taxes. Citizens have learned that this constraint allows them, rather than politicians, to decide how much in taxes they are willing to pay. With this measure in place it is up to citizens to decide how much government they want and are willing to pay for.

Citizens in Washington have sent a clear message to the governor; we are no longer willing to just “leave it to us.” As in other states, such as Colorado, where citizen approval is required to raise taxes, once citizens exercise this right they don’t give it up lightly.

Perhaps the governor and legislators in Washington will get the message this time.

This article was originally published in the Denver Daily News on December 24, 2010.