Spin Control

WEDNESDAY, FEB. 3, 2010, 4:40 P.M.

Senate Democrats want to suspend 2/3rds votes on taxes

OLYMPIA -- Senate Democrats formally proposed this afternoon a plan to suspend the super majority required to raise taxes through the middle of 2011 and make other permanent changes to the tax-limiting initiative voters approved two years ago

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, called Initiative 960 a "straightjacket on our state in a time of economic crisis" and a requirement that gives a minority the ability to obstruct the Legislature.

Senate Bill 6843 would suspend through June 2011 the requirement that all tax increases must pass with a two-thirds majority, and make a simple majority the permanent rule for any tax increase needed to carry out a policy approved by voters in an initiative that didn't come with its own source of taxes.

The most obvious examples of the latter would be money needed for smaller classroom sizes and for pay raises for teachers, which were both passed in voter initiatives in 2000 but have been suspended in tight state budgets.

It also would allow the Legislature to "clarify legislative intent" on tax policy if the state Supreme Court were to interpret the law as not allowing a particular tax or tax exemption. That's significant in light of a court decision last fall that ruled against a tax for Dot Foods, an out of state supplier. That ruling is estimated to drop state tax revenues by  $137 million per year.

Sen. Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, said the proposal was a prelude to raising taxes to bail out poor state budget decisions of the past. "It creates a climate of fear and apprehension that will only quash job creation and put more people out of work."

Democrats have talked of their intentions to suspend the super majority since before the session began and Republicans have talked just as long that such a move would flaunt the will of the people.

Republicans have introduced a bill to "reaffirm" the two-thirds majority and initiative sponsor Tim Eyman has already begun gathering signatures on a ballot measure asking voters to reinstate the super majority in November. He and other co-sponsors filed the initiative on the first day of the legislative session.

The bill is one of two proposals being discussed by Democrats looking for a way around the two-thirds majority requirement imposed in I-960. The other would be to repeal it entirely, Brown said.

The bill has a title that some might regard as "high-faluting." It is official called "Preserving essential public services by temporarily suspending the two-thirds vote requirement for tax increases and permanently modifying provisions of Initiative Measure No. 960 for improved efficiency and consistency with state budgeting."

The bill will get a hearing in the Senate Ways and Means Committee Thursday afternoon, and likely  come to the Senate floor sometime next week, Brown said.

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