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Editorial: Value of advisory votes still unclear

The votes are in, and it doesn’t matter.

Not those that elected or re-elected new officeholders or passed historic initiatives like those changing Washington marijuana laws and allowing same-sex marriages.

No, the ballots marked for and against the two advisory votes are those cast in vain. So far.

The first eliminated the business and occupation tax exemption on first mortgages for out-of-state banks. The second extended a pollution levy due to expire next year. Both were passed by overwhelming majorities in the House and Senate. But voters would have repealed both.

Would have, because the advisory votes are nonbinding.

Advisory votes are creatures of Initiative 960, passed in 2007, which authorized voting on any tax increases, extensions or, in the case of the tax on banks, the closing of a loophole that this year will save Wall Street – and cost the state of Washington – $14.5 million. This year was the first time advisories appeared on the ballot.

If voters are unwilling to squeeze big banks after all they did to bring down the economy, who will they tax?

Although the outcomes will not affect the closing of the B&O loophole or extension of the pollution tax, I-960 author Tim Eyman says he hopes third parties like the Washington Policy Center or political candidates will use the information to finger incumbents whose votes on legislation do not square with constituent sentiment. Because these are the first advisory votes, it’s too early to test his theory.

But voter support for Initiative 1185 – by almost two-thirds – assures the advisories will continue, which will give constituents more time to understand how the outcomes can be used to affect future elections. The presumption: that voters will tire of representatives and senators that talk tax restraint until they get to Olympia, where the peer pressure to support more spending becomes irresistible.

Look at the Democratic majorities that will remain in place next year, and the Democratic governor-elect, and see if there is not a disconnect. How is it that the Democrats, the alleged tax-and-spend party, retain the upper hand despite that reputation? And, if you are a Democrat, what is there to fear from advisory votes if there is no political backlash from a vote to increase taxes?

Look at the results of last week’s election, and the threat to any incumbent for doing just about anything is seemingly negligible.

I-1185’s requirement that tax measures receive two-thirds votes would not have affected enactment of the B&O or pollution tax changes. Our concern is a disconnect between lawmakers who, in the case of the bank bill, must digest a 45-page bill before its enactment, and voters who look at a brief ballot title, see only the word “tax,” and will vote no.

When you seek free advice, you get what you pay for.

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