The longest section of this year’s state election pamphlet isn’t taken up by a political race, voting instructions or even
the complete text of the two state initiatives on the ballot.
It’s the Advisory Votes chapter — 10 pages of information on five tax increases that are already law and, officials say, will almost certainly stay that way regardless of the outcome
Nevertheless, voters are being asked for their opinions on the five increases: an expansion of the estate tax, elimination of a tax break for some telecommunications services; and minor shifts in taxes affecting commuter air carriers, property assessments and insurance for pediatric oral care.
The votes are the result of a Tim Eyman-sponsored initiative that sends any action by the state Legislature deemed a tax increase to the next November’s ballot.
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Initiative 960, which was mostly known for establishing a now-repealed supermajority requirement for tax increases, was approved by voters in 2007.
But the advisory votes have taken place only once before, in 2012. Lawmakers did not approve new taxes in 2008 or 2009, and suspended the initiative for 2010 and 2011.
“Here the voters are, it’s the fall, and we’re reporting on how expensive the last legislative session was,” Eyman said. “It’s a way for voters to see the increases and send a message about how they feel about them.”
Some people disagree with Eyman about the importance of the advisory votes.
“I think it’s one of the stupidest things we do,” said state Rep. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia. “It’s a vote over things we have already done. It’s just a publicity stunt for Tim Eyman.”
Hunt, who chairs the House Government Operations & Elections Committee, said he hopes to discuss a repeal of the requirement in his committee as soon as next month.
Hunt and House budget-panel Chairman Ross Hunter said the advisory votes provide too little context on the tax increases — “like less than a tweet of information about unbelievably complicated bills,” Hunter said — and are themselves expensive to include in the election pamphlet: about $130,000, according to the Office of the Secretary of State.
Including the advisory votes initially was expected to cost about twice that much, but officials found a way to consolidate the information into half as many pages, said Dave Ammons, a spokesman for the secretary of state.
Still, Ammons said he has been receiving a lot of calls from voters who have been confused by the nonbinding votes.
Eyman defended the advisory votes, noting that the $130,000 cost is “not quite as much” as the estimated cost of the five increases — $887 million over 10 years, according to the Office of Financial Management.
The changes to the estate tax and telecommunications taxes were estimated to raise $478.4 million and $396.9 million, respectively, while the other three were expected to bring at least $2.4 million in revenue combined.
The increases were part of a budget deal that closed a large shortfall and put an additional $1 billion into basic education in response to a state Supreme Court ruling.
Four of them were approved by lawmakers overwhelmingly; the estate-tax changes won approval from 30 of 49 senators and 53 of 98 representatives.
Eyman said voters deserve to know when lawmakers raise their taxes and should be given an opportunity to weigh in.
A vote against the taxes, while nonbinding, “would send a pretty clear message to the 2014 Legislature,” Eyman said.
Of course, voters sent a message last year when more than 55 percent expressed disapproval of a petroleum tax and more than 57 percent pooh-poohed elimination of a tax break for certain large banks.
The 2013 Legislature chose not to revisit either policy.
Brian M. Rosenthal: 206-464-3195 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @brianmrosenthal