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Eyman initiative on taxes holds lead

Wed., Nov. 7, 2007

OLYMPIA – Tax rebel Tim Eyman’s initiative plan to strengthen the state’s two-thirds approval requirement for tax hikes held a comfortable early lead as early ballots were counted Tuesday night.

Initiative 960 led 54 percent to 46 percent in early returns. Eyman joked “Victory! Victory! Victory!” though knowing it would be hours or even days before he knew the final outcome.

“The public has a much greater understanding of the Legislature’s repeated abuse of the emergency clause and its negation of our constitutional rights” to challenge tax votes by referendum, Eyman said.

Eyman didn’t immediately declare victory, and opponents said later votes – particularly in populous, liberal King County – could reverse the trend. That county was voting against Eyman’s plan 55-45, but he was winning nearly everywhere else.

That was certainly the case in Spokane County, where 55 percent of the ballots counted Tuesday night favored the initiative. Nearly 62 percent of voters approved the measure in Stevens County, while the measure was locked in a 50-50 split in Whitman County.

Initiative 960 sought to strengthen the state’s two-thirds approval requirement for tax hikes in Olympia, and to add new requirements for public advisory votes, legislative approval of all new state fees and a heavy flow of information on all tax and fee measures.

Initiative 960 would:

•Affirm, and somewhat expand, the two-thirds voting requirement for the Legislature to pass tax hikes. Taxes passed with only a simple majority would have to go to the ballot for ratification.

•Require a flood of information on all tax and fee legislation, including the 10-year cost.

•Require lawmakers to vote on every fee increase, rather than delegate authority to the agencies.

•Require a nonbinding public vote on taxes passed in Olympia with an emergency clause – a tactic that precludes a referendum campaign to overturn the tax.

In other statewide ballot measures, voters were favoring a referendum that would give Washington consumers a bigger weapon against insurance companies in court, but the measure’s opponents were hoping for a comeback.

Referendum 67 was winning in unofficial returns Tuesday night, with about 56 percent of the vote in favor and 44 percent opposed.

About a third of the expected vote had been counted.

Opponents were not ready to give up Tuesday night, hoping that additional tallies from politically conservative Eastern Washington could help close the gap in the coming days’ vote counts.

If approved, R-67 would allow policyholders to collect triple damages if their insurer unreasonably denies a claim or violates unfair practice rules. The law would not apply to health coverage, and it wouldn’t allow consumers to sue someone else’s insurance provider for triple damages.

It was failing in Spokane County, with 53 percent of voters rejecting the measure.

Meanwhile, voters statewide appeared to be rejecting efforts to make it easier for school districts to raise property taxes.

The school amendment, HJR 4204, was aimed at eliminating the 60 percent supermajority requirement for approving special levies for local school districts. The rule is a decades-old limitation on voters’ power to tax property owners.

Supporters said the measure was needed to remove unfair hurdles to districts at risk of losing programs, but opponents said it would only raise property taxes without helping education.

Other proposed constitutional amendments were faring better.

Voters approved SJR 8206, a constitutional amendment to create a nest egg for lawmakers to tap in case of emergency or a downturn in the economy.

The “rainy day” fund would build up to $1 billion or more during good times. During a recession or in the case of an earthquake, terrorist attack or other disaster, the money could be tapped by simple-majority vote in Olympia. Lawmakers also could access it with 60 percent supermajorities.

The measure would automatically set aside 1 percent of state government revenue each year, roughly $150 million.

Once it topped 10 percent of revenue, the excess would be available by simple majority vote for school and college construction projects.

The fund would start with about $430 million, including last year’s surplus and a $135 million deposit by the 2007 Legislature.


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