A weird quirk of Washington’s general election ballot is something of an opinion poll, asking voters their view of state tax increases months after lawmakers and the governor enact them.
These advisory votes don’t matter. Lawmakers may not even peek at the results. Although they ask voters to choose whether to “repeal” or “maintain” the measures, whatever the outcome, these votes won’t change the law.
The Nov. 3 general election ballot includes four advisory votes, which gather voters’ feedback about state lawmakers’ recent tax-related decisions.
The short descriptions offer only a brief identification of the tax, description of the increase and a 10-year cost projection. That cursory explanation is required by Initiative 960, which created advisory votes. But that does not mean these votes can’t be instructive, if voters do a bit of digging. The online voters’ guide available on the Secretary of State web site includes links to bill summaries and full text.
The most well known of those on the ballot is Advisory vote 35, which concerns SB 6690, signed into law on March 25. The law rolls back a tax break for aerospace manufacturers — an increase Boeing sought in order to avoid retaliatory tariffs from the World Trade Organization. It is estimated to generate more than $1 billion in revenues over a decade, if it lasts that long. The law would permit reinstating the preferential tax rate if the United States and European Union resolve disagreements about tax incentives. The Times editorial board supported this change.
Advisory vote 34 concerns SB 6492, which eliminated the workforce education investment surcharge and raised Business and Occupation tax rates from 1.5% to 1.75% for most businesses earning more than $1 million per year. It was signed into law on Feb. 10 and is estimated to generate about $843 million in government revenues over a 10-year period. The editorial board supported this change, which will help fund the College Grant program and make higher education more affordable for the children of Washington’s working-class families.
Advisory vote 32 concerns SB 5323, which will require retailers to charge customers an eight-cent tax for carryout bags that cannot be recycled. It was signed into law last March and will take effect in January. The tax, intended to reduce plastic-bag pollution, is estimated to raise $32 million in revenues in the first 10 years. The editorial board took no position.
Advisory vote 33 concerns SB 5628, signed into law on April 2, which imposes a 1.25% tax on rentals of heavy equipment starting in January 2022. It is estimated to raise $103 million over a decade. The editorial board took no position.
By design, such complex conditions aren’t reflected in advisory votes’ terse ballot language. But with a little homework, voters can share their informed opinion about last session’s tax-related legislation.
Correction: This editorial, originally published Sept. 13, 2020, was corrected Sept. 14, 2020. It misstated the total tax estimated to be collected by SB 6690. The correct amount is more than $1 billion over the next 10 years.