This fall, Washington taxpayers could pay about a quarter-million dollars for the chance to weigh in on tax policies that have already become law.
The nonbinding tax advisory votes have taken place here only once before. They result from a Tim Eyman-sponsored initiative — approved by voters in 2007 — that sends any action by the Legislature deemed a tax increase to the next November’s ballot.
The cost is due to a requirement that state officials provide voters with details about each policy, how each lawmaker voted, and how to contact each of them.
The Secretary of State’s Office estimated Tuesday that with five new taxes to describe, it could cost an extra $240,000 to produce the pamphlet sent to state voters.
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“It is a lot of money,” said Tami Davis, the office’s voter education and outreach manager. “Especially for the outcome … because there is no outcome.”
If the format remains the same, each tax policy would get four pages in the voters pamphlet — three of which would be taken up by lawmaker contact information, according to David Ammons, spokesman for the office.
Officials are trying to find a less expensive format, Ammons said.
A candidate usually takes up about a half-page in the pamphlet, he said. The pamphlet typically costs around $1 million to produce.
Supporters said the added money for advisory votes is well worth it.
“It’s chump change to the voters who have decided that they want this information … It’s the voters’ pamphlet. It’s not the politicians’ pamphlet. It’s for the benefit of the voters,” said Eyman, a professional initiative promoter, noting the state’s two-year budget is roughly $33 billion.
He also argued the advisory votes have a “lobbying effect” on lawmakers.
Republican state Sen. Michael Baumgartner agreed.
“I think in general, more transparency about legislators’ votes is always better,” said Baumgartner, of Spokane, emphasizing that the advisory votes came to be because voters approved them.
But House Democratic budget writer Ross Hunter said the votes are “not a worthwhile expenditure.”
“It’s a beauty contest with absolutely no context,” said Hunter, complaining that the voters pamphlet does not include information about how the taxes will be spent.
“I think the voters elect people to make complicated decisions, and if they don’t like it, I think the appropriate response is, well, I think they should pick a different legislator,” he said.
Hunter, D-Medina, noted that last year’s tax advisory votes ended with the two policies being soundly rejected — and nothing happened.
The advisory votes were first mandated by Initiative 960, the 2007 measure best known as one of those that required all tax increases to receive a two-thirds majority in the Legislature.
Lawmakers did not approve new taxes in 2008 or 2009, and suspended the initiative for 2010 and 2011.
The policies on the ballot last year concerned the elimination of a mortgage-related tax deduction for big banks and extension of a tax on wholesale petroleum products.
This year, the biggest items were a change in the estate tax and elimination of a tax break for home-phone service.
Also on the ballot will be minor shifts in taxes affecting commuter air carriers, property assessments and insurance.
Lawmakers approved all five overwhelmingly.
Brian M. Rosenthal: 206-464-3195 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @brianmrosenthal