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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Editorial: I-1366 a surefire way to gridlock, or education cuts

The Tim Eyman initiative factory hasn’t had any luck achieving a supermajority requirement for passing tax increases, so he thought he’d try political extortion this time.

This could be his last hurrah, because he allegedly hid money he pocketed from a signature-gathering firm. That’s just one of many charges leveled by the Public Disclosure Commission after a lengthy investigation. The findings have been forwarded to the attorney general’s office for possible action.

In the meantime, voters will decide whether Initiative 1366, a contorted and cynical measure that demands the Legislature pass a constitutional amendment that would require a two-thirds majority of both chambers agree to any tax-hike proposal.

If the Legislature fails to comply with his proposal, it must shave a penny off the sales tax, which would drain $8 billion in revenue over the next six years. Yet lawmakers working to meet basic education funding – as the constitution requires – estimate they’ll need at least $3.8 billion to satisfy the Supreme Court’s McCleary decision mandate.

So the state would need to find at least $11.8 billion in budget cuts if I-1366 passes. But legislators made massive reductions in the wake of the Great Recession, slashing, for example, mental health services. Patients ended up being warehoused, rather than treated in a timely fashion.

Reducing the sales tax would be devastating to social services, public health programs, parks and efforts to prevent and fight wildfires. Holding the line on college tuition and financial aid would be practically impossible. The state’s pension accounts and bond rating could be impacted.

The new medical school in Spokane might never open.

Budgetary math aside, enshrining a supermajority requirement in the constitution would guarantee the gridlock paralyzing Congress would spread to Olympia. A mere 17 senators – out of 147 total legislators – could halt not just tax increases, but any tax reform, which Washington needs.

Congress is in turmoil because 30 to 40 of the House’s 435 representatives have decided to torpedo anything leadership brings forward. The rejectionists toppled Speaker John Boehner and forced his likely replacement to step aside.

The irony is that it would take a supermajority of both houses for Eyman to get his amendment through the Legislature. He knows that’s impossible, so he tacked on the sales-tax cut as a threat.

It’s true that voters have passed five initiatives that call for a higher threshold to pass tax increases. But they’ve also voted for massive spending that can’t occur without new revenue.

We can’t have both because they don’t add up. Placing one of those desires in the constitution is a sure-fire way to permanently thwart any others.