Advisory votes on tax increases on the November ballot

OLYMPIA —Two measures on the November ballot ask Washington voters if they want to maintain or repeal two tax hikes approved by state lawmakers.

But what they say won’t make a difference one way or the other.

That’s because the measures are advisory and the results not binding on state lawmakers. They are appearing on the ballot due to a provision in Initiative 960 that Mukilteo’s Tim Eyman crafted and voters approved in 2007. It says 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.

Nonbinding measures first showed up on a statewide ballot in 2012. This year’s offerings are the 14th and 15th. As required, information on the tax bills as well as how lawmakers voted on them must be included, at taxpayer expense, in voter pamphlets.

“Politicians aren’t happy about being second-guessed. But tax advisory votes weren’t created to make politicians happy. They were created to hold politicians accountable through greater transparency and public disclosure,” Eyman said in an email response to questions.

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

Christian Sinderman, a Seattle political consultant who has managed campaigns against Eyman initiatives, said he finds the initiative promoter’s arguments ironic.

“Tim Eyman is all about transparency and voter notification unless it deals with his business dealings and campaign finances,” Sinderman said.

Eyman is currently under investigation by the state Attorney General’s Office for alleged campaign fraud.

Among the issues being explored are allegations Eyman illegally shifted money among two initiative campaigns in 2012 and concealed payments he received in the process. Investigators are examining whether Eyman used $170,000 raised for the political campaigns to pay for his personal living expenses.

Eyman, through his lawyer, has denied wrongdoing.

On this fall’s ballot will be an advisory measure concerning House Bill 2778 which aimed to boost sales of electric cars by providing a sales tax exemption to the first $32,000 of the selling price of qualifying new electric vehicles. It passed by margins of 66-29 in the House and 28-15 in the Senate and was signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee on April 18.

In its analysis, the Office of Financial Management estimated the state could lose out on $1.5 million in revenue in the next six years as a result of this tax break.

The other advisory measure deals with House Bill 2768, which allows the state to levy assessments and insurance premium taxes on certain stand-alone family dental plans of $25 to $50 per member per month.

The bill passed 91-7 in the House, 44-4 in the Senate and signed into law March 31 by Inslee.

In its review, the Office of Financial Management concluded it did not have enough information to estimate what it might cost insurers and their customers.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; Twitter: @dospueblos.

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