Guest opinion: Tax fight sees wins, but isn’t over
Over the past 15 years, our team of supporters has sponsored and given the voters the opportunity to vote on our tax-limiting initiatives. Their goals were the same: to send a clear message to Olympia that tax increases need to be a last resort, not a first resort. Using existing resources more effectively and prioritizing spending are what the people want, but it is not a message that elected officials tend to listen to.
So when the 2013 legislative session started, there was no reason to think this year was going to be any different.
So we did what we always do: We filed an initiative to make it tougher to raise taxes. Our newest initiative pushes for a two-thirds-for-taxes constitutional amendment. Voters have approved this same policy five times. Last November, it passed in all 39 counties; 65 percent of statewide voters and 70 percent of Spokane County voters approved it.
A few months later, the Washington Supreme Court found that a constitutional amendment is now required, so we’re on a mission to do exactly what the court said to do.
During the legislative session, we asked our supporters to contact their legislators and remind them that the people strongly oppose higher taxes. Emails and phone calls from constituents amplified the citizens’ clear no-tax-increase message. Many of us traveled to Olympia and testified against bills proposing higher taxes, including increased gas taxes, car tab taxes, death taxes, income taxes, sales taxes, property taxes and many others. At one point, $15 billion in potential tax increases were being proposed.
But by the time we were ready to begin our initiative’s signature drive, only a few tax increase bills were pending. The Senate Majority Coalition Caucus, citing the voters’ approval of our two-thirds-for-taxes initiative, took a hard line on tax increases. When the dust settled, only a handful of tax increases were passed.
Maybe it was the threat of our newest initiative that got Olympia to not raise taxes. Maybe it was the near certainty that we’d offer the voters an initiative or referendum repealing any tax increase they imposed (“Anheuser-Busch could hand a check to Tim Eyman and say go have fun,” Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, told PubliCola). Maybe it was constituent feedback or fear of electoral retaliation. Maybe it was all of the above.
But regardless of what caused the Legislature to not go hog-wild increasing taxes this session, their fiscal restraint contributed to our decision to not do a signature drive this cycle.
One columnist says that makes us a “loser” because we weren’t able to do a tax initiative this year. He’s missing the point. We push our initiatives to convince Olympia to make tax increases a last resort; if they listen to the voters’ no-tax-increase message by not raising taxes, then that makes the taxpayers the winner. And that’s just fine with us.
Our tax initiatives are a means to an end.
Jack Fagan, Spokane City Councilman Mike Fagan and I are the sponsors of an initiative that reforms and improves the initiative process itself, and it’s already qualified for this fall’s ballot. It’s being promoted by some heroic allies of ours who successfully collected signatures and are running the fall campaign. They’re doing a great job and don’t need our help, so we’re going to focus our efforts on our taxpayer protection initiative.
Our “Let The Voters Decide on a 2/3-For-Taxes Constitutional Amendment Initiative” is a huge challenge. Allowing the voters to put this policy into the constitution means permanent protection from Olympia’s propensity to raise taxes. Our mission is to qualify it for a public vote during a different election cycle.
We think on taxes this year, the Legislature scored an A-minus.
But Olympia’s appetite for tax increases has not ended; it’s only been suspended. The battle over tax increases will heat up again next year and the year after.
And it’s for that reason we will continue to pursue letting the voters vote on our initiative putting a two-thirds-for-taxes constitutional amendment on the ballot.