Voters get advisory say on tax boosts

OLYMPIA — Lawmakers approved five tax increases this year and voters now get the chance to say if they agree or not.

Measures on this year’s ballot ask voters if they would repeal or maintain those increases that will bring in roughly $200 million over the next two years.

The results won’t change any of the laws as these are only advisory measures intended to let voters weigh in on what lawmakers did.

All of this is happening because of a 2007 initiative written by Mukilteo’s Tim Eyman thay said if lawmakers approve a tax increase without putting it to a vote then the electorate gets to offer its opinion after the fact in this manner.

“We wish they hadn’t raised taxes at all then there wouldn’t have been any advisory votes,” Eyman said. “But given the fact that they did raise taxes at least the voters can have a say and know how their legislators voted on these five tax increases.”

Though the results will not change any of the laws, Eyman insisted they will influence lawmakers’ behavior. If voters give a thumbs-down to all of them, it should make lawmakers cautions about raising other taxes in the future, he said.

“There’s going to be a pretty clear message (about taxes) coming out of the November votes,” he said.

But the chairman of the House Finance Committee where tax bills are formulated and debated said the advisory measures are “meaningless”.

“(Eyman’s) a creative fellow who has found a way to make money in pushing these meaningless advisory votes and pretends they are more substantive and impactful than they really are,” said Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle.

Washington conducted its first such advisory votes in 2012 on laws axing a tax break for large banks and extending an existing fuel tax paid by oil refiners and gasoline sellers. Voters disapproved of both.

There are five advisory votes this time.

One is on an estate tax bill that will produce an estimated $160 million for public schools and colleges in the two-year budget cycle that began July 1.

Voters upheld Washington’s estate tax in 2006 but the state Supreme Court later carved out a limited exemption for married couples that benefitted fewer than 100 families. The law passed this year eliminated that exemption.

Lawmakers in the House and Senate fiercely debated this bill through a regular session and two special sessions before resolving their disagreements.

A second advisory vote is on a telecommunications bill reforming the types and amounts of taxes collected from providers of cell, landline and cable phone services. It is projected to bring in $49 million in the next two years.

“The revenue from these two major bills is being spent directly, without detour, on 1 million school kids and to hold (college) tuition to zero for the first time,” Carlyle said.

The other three advisory votes are on measures that will collectively generate less than $1 million in this budget. They deal with tax rules for stand-alone dental coverage, commuter air carriers and assessments of certain publicly owned properties that are leased for private use.

Just like 2012, the state’s voters pamphlet prepared by the Secretary of State’s Office includes a brief description of each law, a projection of how much revenue it will generate over a 10-year period and how each lawmaker voted on it.

This information fills 10 of the pamphlet’s 32 pages. Producing those pages cost $140,000, according to Dave Ammons, spokesman for the Secretary of State’s Office.

Text of the bills is not included. Voters will need to do some research if they want to read the legislation or the analyses of them prepared for lawmakers.

It’s hard to offer informed advice without such information, Carlyle said.

“It’s a ridiculous gaping hole and we should either eliminate this silliness or fix it and do it right,” he said.

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

Measures

Advisory Vote 3 — Senate Bill 5444

Concerns a leasehold excise tax credit for taxpayers who lease publicly owned property

Amount raised 2013-15 budget: $312,000; Ten year total: $1.96 million

Senate 47-2; House 91-6

Advisory Vote 4 – Senate Bill 5627

Concerns an aircraft excise tax on commuter air carriers in lieu of property tax

Amount raised 2013-15 budget: $70,000; Ten year total: $500,000

Senate 41-8; House 71-22

Advisory Vote 5 – House Bill 1846

Concerns the insurance premium tax to some insurance for pediatric oral services

Amount raised 2013-15 budget and 10-year total cannot be estimated

Senate 47-1; House 95-0

Advisory Vote 6 – House Bill 1971

Concerns a retail sales tax exemption for certain telephone and telecommunications services

Amount raised 2013-15 budget: $49.1 million; Ten year total: $397 million

Senate: 36-11; House 77-15

Advisory Vote 7 – House Bill 2075

Concerns estate tax on certain property transfers and increased rates for estates over $4,000,000

Amount raised 2013-15 budget: $149 million;

Ten year total: $478.4 million

Senate: 30-19; House: 53-33

To read the complete text of each bill, go tov vote.wa.gov/completetext

To learn about the fiscal implications of each bill, go toofm.wa.gov/ballot/

To trace the path of each bill, go to leg.wa.gov

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