Tax hikes prompt 2 advisory votes on fall ballot

OLYMPIA — Voters this fall will get a chance to second guess lawmakers on a pair of tax increases approved earlier this year.

But the opportunity isn’t free and could cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.

On Monday, Secretary of State Sam Reed got the word from the Attorney General’s Office to conduct advisory votes on the laws which eliminated a tax break for large banks and extended an existing fuel tax that was to expire in July 2013.

Both votes will be nonbinding so the outcome will not change what lawmakers and Gov. Chris Gregoire did. Each one will let voters express whether they agreed with what was done.

These advisory votes are a product of Initiative 960 passed overwhelmingly in 2007. They mark the first time this provision is getting triggered.

“I am very excited that the voters will get the chance to vote on two of the tax increases,” said Tim Eyman of Mukilteo, the author of the 5-year-old initiative. “I wish (lawmakers) hadn’t raised any taxes but at least (voters) get the chance to have a voice in the decision and find out which lawmakers voted for the increases.”

Initiative 960 is best known for requiring new or higher taxes to be approved by a two-thirds majority of the House and the Senate or by voters. Non-binding advisory votes were pitched as a way of gauging the popularity of taxes enacted without voter approval.

Adding two statewide measures to the November ballot will increase the cost of the fall election though officials aren’t sure yet by how much.

For certain, the price of the voter’s guide will rise. For each measure, the pamphlet must include a description of the tax along with how each of the 147 lawmakers voted on it. In addition, contact information for the lawmakers must be there.

Each additional page in the voter’s pamphlet costs an estimated $15,000, election officials said last week. How many additional pages are needed won’t be known for several days, they said.

Eyman recently sent the state elections office a sample of how one measure might look in the guide and it took up four pages. Doing the math, two measures taking up eight pages would tack another $120,000 onto the price of the election.

Meanwhile, taxpayers in Snohomish County may be hit with a bigger election bill as well.

Snohomish County Auditor Carolyn Weikel said adding the measures may force them to redesign and widen the ballot from two columns to three columns. This will mean using more paper and buying new envelopes to accommodate larger ballots, she said.

A final decision on the design won’t be known for several days, she said.

Advisory votes will be conducted on provisions in Senate Bill 6635 and House Bill 2590. Gregoire signed both bills May 2.

The Senate bill axed a tax break which allowed large banks with locations in more than 10 states to deduct interest earned on first mortgages from its state business taxes. Lawmakers are counting on it to bring in $18 million to the state general fund.

It cleared the House on 74-24 vote and the Senate by a margin of 35-10.

The House bill deals with the funding and operation of the Washington Pollution Liability Insurance Agency which aims to ensure the safety of underground gasoline storage tanks. Its funding comes from a tax on bulk purchases of fuel that was to expire July 1, 2013.

The new law extended the tax to 2020. It passed on votes of 40-0 in the Senate and 93-1 in the House.

Shane Hamlin, state elections co-director, said the measures will appear on the ballot as Tax Advisory Proposition 1 and Tax Advisory Proposition 2.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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