September 30, 2010 in Opinion

Editorial: Two-thirds requirement a reasonable tax restraint

 

The Spokesman-Review Editorial Board

Members of The Spokesman-Review editorial board help to determine The Spokesman-Review's position on issues of interest to the Inland Northwest. Board members are:

A significant theme of the campaign against Initiative 1053 has been that it is an assault on majority rule. The opponents should rethink that strategy.

If voters approve the ballot measure on Nov. 2, it would prevent the Legislature from raising taxes with less than a two-thirds vote in both the House and the Senate. A scant 17 senators shouldn’t be able to block the will of 130 other elected lawmakers, the opposing argument goes. (We’re straining to recall a time when the 98-member House ever aligned unanimously with 32 senators on as volatile an issue as tax increases.)

But if I-1053’s foes really fancy majority rule, they should side with the majority of state voters who have approved variations of the two-thirds requirement three times, only to see it circumvented by a scant several dozen legislators in Olympia.

The most recent example happened during this year’s legislative session when lawmakers suspended Initiative 960, which voters approved in 2007. That cleared the way for millions in tax increases that the Legislature used to balance the budget, forestalling deeper spending cuts.

Initiative 960 itself was admittedly flawed. Its sound central element (the supermajority requirement for tax hikes) was burdened by unnecessary add-ons. At the time, we recommended that voters reject it.

But the window dressing is not a concern with I-1053, which is straightforward. It reinstates the two-thirds requirement, a valuable check on legislators’ impulse to increase taxes when budgets are squeezed. That’s what voters wanted when they approved Initiative 601 in 1993, Referendum 49 in 1998 and I-960 in 2007.

The economy is staggering. Beneficiaries of state services are in severe need. Painful cuts have been made. We concede all that.

But state and local governments are overdue for a thorough re-examination of what they should be expected to do. Establishing core responsibilities, defining priorities and sticking to reasonable fiscal limits are a must. However, they’re unlikely to happen without a level of discipline the Legislature has shown itself unable to apply.

Measures like I-1053 (and I-601, and Ref. 49, and I-960) are the voters’ means of insisting on it.

This measure would not foreclose reasonable taxation. It would just force lawmakers to make a compelling case before approving increases.

It shouldn’t be impossible to raise taxes, but it should be difficult, and that’s why we encourage voters to approve I-1053’s supermajority requirement – again.


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