OLYMPIA – The Legislature would be able to raise taxes this session and next with a simple majority vote under a bill approved Tuesday in the state Senate.
In the most contentious Senate debate this year – one that constantly invoked “the will of the people” – Democrats suspended for 16 months the need for a supermajority on tax increases, imposed by voters in 2007.
Just hours after a 26-23 victory, however, they said they’d made a mistake and intended to suspend all the requirements of Initiative 960, including the need for statewide advisory votes on any tax they choose to raise. Sen. Margarita Prentice, D-Renton, the bill’s prime sponsor, said in an evening press release the majority party will bring up a new version to the Senate floor “as soon as possible … to suspend I-960 in full until July 2011.”
All 18 Republicans voted against the measure, as did five Democrats including Chris Marr of Spokane, who said later the Legislature should focus on efficiencies and budget cuts “before we default to simply raising taxes.”
Some Republicans, like Sen. Cheryl Pflug of Maple Valley, predicted a “wall of rage” from voters in November. Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, said that even in tough economic times, the Legislature shouldn’t amend an initiative, which represents “the will of the people.”
“What is it about the will of the people that worries you?” asked Benton, a recently announced candidate for U.S. Senate. “I believe we have to listen.”
But Sen. James Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, noted that Republicans amended initiatives when they controlled the Legislature and needed to balance the budget.
Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said she and other Democrats respect the state constitution as much as Republicans, but the same constitution that gives voters the right of initiative also gives the Legislature the job of passing a balanced budget.
“If you hold the budget to minority rule, some would say hold hostage … then you are holding the policy of the people also hostage to minority rule,” she said.
At one point, Sen. Rosa Franklin, D-Tacoma, after hearing several references to the people’s will, said people also want the state to show compassion to children and the elderly: “Grandma is scared. The services she is receiving will be eliminated or cut drastically. … I promised grandma I will vote for her.”
Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, responded: “I’m a grandma, and I don’t want to have my taxes raised. I’m a grandma, and I’m not voting for this bill.” Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Wells, D-Seattle, countered: “I’m a grandmother, and I am voting for this bill.”
Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, went one better: “I have 43 grandchildren. … I believe it’s our responsibility to take care of people.”
Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Bellevue, got laughs from both sides by beginning his statement, “First, I want to make it clear that I am not a grandmother.”
Although scorching in their criticism of the bill in debate, Republicans leaders afterward claimed a partial victory because some of the provisions they hated most had been stripped out of the bill. Some of those will likely return, to prompt further debate, in the next version Democrats propose.