Voters will give advisory vote on 5 tax measures

OLYMPIA — Voters statewide will get the last word this fall on five tax measures passed by lawmakers earlier this year.

But what they say won’t change anything because their opinions will only be advisory.

Voters, as a result of a 2007 initiative penned by Mukilteo’s Tim Eyman, are getting a chance to say how they would have acted on the five laws, which will bring in money for state coffers by eliminating tax breaks or revising tax rules on certain business activities.

State elections officials estimate it will require 20 pages in the voters guide to list each tax increase, what it produces in revenue and how the 147 lawmakers voted on each measure. The estimated cost for producing those pages and getting them in the hands of voters will be around $240,000.

“I wish they hadn’t raised taxes at all then there wouldn’t be any advisory votes,” Eyman said Tuesday.

But he described the estimated price tag as “chump change” to ensure voters can “convey to the Legislature how they feel about the tax increases.”

“I don’t know how the voters are going to vote on these five,” he said. “I like the fact that the voters will have a chance to have a voice in the process. It is the voters’ pamphlet. It is there for the voters’ benefit. It is not the Legislature’s pamphlet.”

Under that old measure, Initiative 960, a law is subject to an advisory vote if it raises taxes — which the Attorney General’s Office says means “increases state tax revenue deposited into any fund, budget, or account,” — and if it is not otherwise subject to a referendum vote. Fee hikes are not subject such a vote.

The voters’ decisions guarantee nothing; rather, it’s their collective opinion and advice for lawmakers heading into the 2014 session.

Washington voters participated in their first-ever such advisory votes in 2012 when they weighed in on laws axing a tax break for large banks and extending an existing fuel tax paid by oil refineries and gasoline sellers.

Last year, elections officials intended to publish each bill in its entirety in the voters pamphlet, which they figured would have gobbled up 48 pages.

Upon further review, they decided they could do something less. They put in a short description of each tax prepared by the Attorney General’s Office and a projection of the fiscal impact of each tax for the next 10 years calculated by the Office of Financial Management.

Even so, it took eight pages for the two measures, at a rough cost of $100,000. This year there are five measures, which leads to their early prediction of 20 pages and a $240,000 tab.

Those going before voters include the much debated estate tax bill, which closed a loophole opened up by the state Supreme Court that benefitted fewer than 100 families. It will produce an estimated $160 million for the two-year budget cycle that began July 1.

The other measures involve erasing a tax break given to users of landline phones, and altering tax rules for stand-alone dental coverage, commuter air carriers and assessments of certain publicly owned properties that are leased.

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

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