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Wondering what those advisory votes on your ballot are about? We’ve got answers

UPDATED: Wed., Oct. 13, 2021

King County Election office workers Kyria Tietze, left, and Joseph Emanuel collect ballots from a drop box the morning of Aug. 7, 2018, in Seattle.  (Elaine Thompson/Associated Press)
King County Election office workers Kyria Tietze, left, and Joseph Emanuel collect ballots from a drop box the morning of Aug. 7, 2018, in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson/Associated Press)

OLYMPIA – Just as they have for nearly a decade, a few advisory votes will appear on this year’s November election ballot. But that doesn’t mean they are any less confusing to voters.

Advisory votes allow voters to weigh in on taxes that passed in the Legislature, but they are nonbinding, meaning they won’t change any law.

In the Nov. 2 election, voters will have three advisory votes on their ballot. Each will ask voters if they think the tax increase should be “repealed” or “maintained.”

The online voters guide gives descriptions written by the attorney general’s office, the 10-year cost projection and final passage vote counts in the Legislature. Unlike any initiatives and referendums, the votes do not have statements by supporters and opponents.

Anytime the Legislature passes a tax increase, it’s placed on the ballot as an advisory vote. The votes don’t change the law, but they allow the public to voice their opinion on taxes passed in the Legislature.

Advisory votes were part of an initiative from Tim Eyman that voters approved in 2007.

Even if the majority votes to repeal the tax, the Legislature is not required to reconsider it. And if previous advisory vote results prove true, it won’t.

Here’s a look at the three state advisory votes on the November ballot, which will be mailed in about two weeks.

Advisory Vote No. 36

The Legislature passed a tax on telephone lines to fund the statewide 988 behavioral health response and suicide prevention line.

The law sets up systems in Washington to respond to 988 calls and improve crisis response systems in response to the national suicide hotline designation act, which Congress passed last year. It designates 988 as the universal number for accessing the National Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Crisis Hotline system.

The state tax is phased in. From Oct. 1, 2021, to Dec. 31, 2022, the tax is 24 cents per line per month. It’s increased to 40 cents beginning Jan. 1, 2023. The money will be used to route calls from the 988 crisis hotline to the appropriate hotline center and supplying behavioral health, crisis outreach and stabilization services.

Advisory Vote No. 37

The Legislature passed a 7% tax on capital gains last session, a long-awaited win for Democrats who said the tax will help pay for child care priorities and make the tax system less regressive.

The sale of stocks, bonds, some property, businesses and other investments will be taxed if the profits exceed $250,000 annually. Revenue will not come to the state until 2023.

Opponents of the bill say it is a tax on income, which would be considered unconstitutional in Washington.

Because the bill passed with a clause making it “necessary for the support of the state government and its existing public institutions,” voters could not bring a referendum to the ballot to appeal it. Instead, opponents are taking it to court. A judge denied the state’s request earlier this month to dismiss the lawsuit, meaning it will move forward.

Advisory Vote No. 38

The Legislature passed a bill last session that imposed a premium tax on captive insurers, insurance companies that are owned by a corporation or company and insure the risk of their owner.

The bill requires eligible captive insurers to pay a 2% tax for insurance provided to its parent or affiliate.

Laurel Demkovich's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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