By Chris Cargill
When the Washington state Legislature passed its illegal income tax starting with capital gains, even supporters expected it to be struck down in court. They were right.
A Douglas County judge just ruled the tax unconstitutional. It wasn’t a surprising result, given that court after court has said the same thing. Still, income tax activists are appealing to the state Supreme Court, hoping they can get a ruling in their favor.
The better course would be to appeal to voters via a public vote. Why not decide this democratically?
But it’s not what income tax supporters will do. They’d much rather have the case decided by judges than by the people of Washington. This anti-democratic trope is becoming all too common at the local, state and national level. Some political interests don’t seem to trust the voters on anything these days, despite their constant claim that our democracy is “at risk.”
For example, here in Spokane, political elites and activists have sought to block votes on a measure preventing a ban on the use of clean natural gas. When voters said they wanted a new sports stadium to be placed at the site of Joe Albi, leaders thought they knew better and moved the stadium downtown instead. When voters said “no” to an STA proposal to build the costly Central City Line, bureaucrats brought it right back for another vote.
State voters have repeatedly made it clear they don’t want a state income tax. Supporters of Initiative 1929 know that. They’re planning to gather signatures for an initiative that would prevent a state income tax – again.
But income tax activists are preparing to strike back. They’ve set up a hotline where people can call to report I-1929 signature gathers, their locations and more information.
They say they want to deploy income tax supporters to those sites and quote “make it as uncomfortable as possible.”
Obviously, this is not healthy for our democracy. The last thing our state needs is a confrontation between signature gatherers and income tax activists. Such encounters could get very ugly, very fast. It also chills free speech and one of the hallmarks of our state constitution – the right to referendum and initiatives.
The state Democratic party chair tweeted out the phone number to report the signature gatherers. The left-leaning Northwest Progressive Institute is also getting into the act.
In a tolerant society, you’d think that we could allow signature gatherers for initiatives to do their work. If you don’t like an initiative, don’t sign it, but let other people make their own decision.
But activists who say they are “progressive” are not stopping there. They also introduced legislation to ban citizen initiatives in odd numbered years. The latest version of the legislation would still allow local governments to call special elections, but only to increase taxes.
It is difficult to reconcile why it is acceptable to allow local tax increases to appear on the ballot while denying the right to vote on popular initiatives and referendums at the same time.
Then there was the proposal that you might call the “voters are too stupid” act. It would have required “public investment impact disclosures” in ballot titles for initiatives and referendum. Put simply, under the guise of transparency, lawmakers wanted you to know how much money they’d lose if you voted for a tax cut.
The recent message from our elected leaders is that voters can’t be trusted to make their own decisions. More than anything else, this arrogant viewpoint shatters faith in government, promotes distrust in our institutions and really does put our democracy at risk.
Chris Cargill is the Eastern Washington director for Washington Policy Center, an independent research organization with offices in Spokane and Seattle. Online at washingtonpolicy.org. Members of the Cowles family, owners of The Spokesman-Review, have previously hosted fundraisers for the Washington Policy Center and sit on the organization’s board.