Two-thirds tax hurdle unnecessary, unwise, ill-timed

Tim Eyman may be better at reading the will of the voters than he is at guessing the thinking of judges.

Following oral arguments early last week before King County Superior Court Judge William Downing, Eyman expressed optimism that Initiative 1366 — the Mukilteo initiative promoter’s latest attempt to force a two-thirds majority requirement to raise taxes and close tax loopholes — would be upheld in court, forcing the Legislature to put a constitutional amendment to a vote of the people or accept a significant reduction in state sales tax revenue.

Eyman, in an email to the media, claimed that Downing “signaled early and often that he wasn’t buying what 1366’s opponents were selling.”

Downing may have a better poker face than Eyman realized.

On Thursday, the judge struck down I-1366 in its entirety, calling it a thinly disguised effort to propose an amendment to the state constitution, a power that is reserved for the Legislature and can’t be done through the initiative process.

The “pressure-wielding mechanism” in the initiative, forcing lawmakers to choose between the constitutional amendment or slashing the sales tax, violated the state constitutional requirement that limits initiatives to one subject, a provision that has previously tripped up Eyman. Put more than one subject in an initiative and the waters of the voters’ intent are muddied.

An appeal of Downing’s decision is expected. Failing that, Eyman filed a place-holder initiative late last year that he is expected to refile soon that would limit the term of any tax increase to a year unless approved by a two-thirds majority of lawmakers.

Eyman has claimed repeatedly, that regardless of court rulings, what remains from his initiatives is the mandate from a majority of voters. Never mind that Eyman needs only a simple majority and not a super-majority to pass his legislation.

Like lawmakers, the voters can be wrong and are subject to our democracy’s checks and balances, as has been proved anytime an initiative has been found unconstitutional.

That doesn’t mean that a two-thirds requirement is necessarily unconstitutional. But it is unnecessary, unwise and ill-timed.

Unnecessary, because the state’s voters have elected a Legislature that is relatively balanced between Democrats and Republicans, who during its last session, save for a gas tax increase, avoided significant tax increases despite several proposals.

Unwise, because, as the gas tax vote in House and Senate demonstrated, a two-thirds majority would have made that increase impossible, and would have scuttled $16.1 billion in desperately needed transportation infrastructure spending in the state, including $670 million in Snohomish County.

Ill-timed, because a two-thirds requirement would make it even more difficult to reform the school levy system and resolve the current K-12 education funding mess.

If a two-thirds requirement for tax increases is the will of the people, then the state’s tax system should be reformed first. Otherwise, that two-thirds requirement would lock in a 0.system where the reliance on sales and property taxes has subjected the state’s residents to the most regressive system in the nation and where its business and occupation taxes put it 32nd in the nation for business tax burden.

Previously we’ve supported state Treasurer Jim McIntyre’s proposal to reform state taxes by reducing property, sales and business and occupation taxes, instituting a flat 5 percent income tax, and creating some predictability for the reforms by putting the two-thirds majority issue to the voters.

We’d suggest an initiative, but that’s more than one subject.

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