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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Editorial: Eyman’s tax initiative looking for a problem

Tim Eyman has a new idea, his worst ever, and that’s saying something.

The watch salesman turned initiative promoter submitted a proposal to the Washington Secretary of State on Monday that would compel the Legislature to enact and pass along to voters a constitutional amendment requiring a two-thirds vote by state lawmakers or voters on any tax increase.

How compel?

Initiative 1325 would cut the state sales tax rate to 5.5 percent from 6.5 percent. The change would reduce annual revenues by about $1 billion. But the reduction would not occur if the Legislature endorses the amendment by April 15, 2015.

In other words, the initiative puts a $1 billion gun to the head of legislators.

Eyman calls the incentive “oomph.” Blackmail is more like it.

Previous Eyman initiatives in support of two-thirds votes for new taxes have been strongly supported by Washington voters. But the state Supreme Court spiked those efforts last year by ruling that the change cannot be made without amending the state’s constitution.

And such an amendment will go nowhere unless two-thirds of representatives and senators will vote to send it along to voters for final approval. Rallying such majorities in both bodies is highly unlikely, if not impossible. To Democrats, it’s anathema.

But no member of either party should submit to Eyman’s latest gambit. Where would it stop?

Recall, too, that by Eyman’s lights not just new taxes are tax increases; so are efforts to remove any of the dozens of exemptions and other relief built into Washington’s tax code.

So as long as one-third of representatives and senators, or voters, reject changes, Washington’s tax structure will remain as is. Of course, Boeing Co. can easily roll a two-thirds “supermajority” for $8 billion in extended tax relief, as it did in November, but few other entities in the state have that kind of leverage.

Unlike Eyman, legislators also can be called out by the state Supreme Court for underfunding K-12 education, which happened again Thursday. Despite boosting spending by $1.6 billion this budget biennium, the lawmakers were faulted for not progressing more swiftly toward “amply” funding schools, as required by the state constitution.

Washington voters have said they want two-third majorities to approve tax increases, but they have also voted to decrease class size and raise teacher salaries, neither of which has happened. The court strongly suggested the time for those improvements is past due, and it wants a plan by April 30.

Eyman’s initiative is a solution in search of a problem. Voters have dealt with new taxes – remember bottled water? – without need for a constitutional amendment. They will get another shot when lawmakers and Gov. Jay Inslee can agree on a transportation package almost certain to include gas tax hikes.

This is not about protecting taxpayers. I-1325 is about keeping Eyman in business.

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