Voters should reject Initiative 1366, a ticking time bomb that would do more harm than good in Olympia.
Washington’s Legislature can be infuriating.
Olympia often takes too long to make important decisions, such as figuring out how to fully fund basic education. Last session’s triple-overtime, caustic budget squabbles that dragged through the night didn’t improve standing with voters.
The public deserves better performance and more fiscally responsible public servants.
But the way to get there is not with threats, bludgeons and a ticking time bomb, which is basically what Initiative 1366 would deliver to the Legislature.
Voters should reject I-1366 and find better ways to hold lawmakers accountable, such as voting underperformers out of office.
If voters look beyond the measure’s sound bites and sloganeering, they’ll find a toxic, complex proposal that would make the Legislature even more dysfunctional.
This is the most cynical ploy yet by professional initiative-backer Tim Eyman to manipulate Washington’s government. Yes, the same Eyman — who has previously been caught misleading the public and is now being investigated for allegedly misusing campaign funds.
On the surface, I-1366 has appeal, demanding that taxes not be increased without a supermajority, or two-thirds vote by the Legislature. That should sound familiar, since state voters have approved a series of similar initiatives since 1993.
That ended in 2013 when the state Supreme Court ruled that requiring a supermajority to vote for tax increases violates the state constitution. The court said framers of the constitution “were particularly concerned about a tyranny of the minority,” in which a small group could control and block legislation. So the constitution calls for only a simple majority to approve most legislation.
To overcome this legal obstacle, I-1366 gets tricky. It would force lawmakers to start the process of amending the constitution, to authorize the supermajority rule.
If lawmakers fail to do so by April 15, 2016, I-1366 would cut the state sales tax from 6.5 percent to 5.5 percent. That sounds small, but it would be a huge blow to state finances — it would slash funding for general government, education and other programs by more than $1.4 billion a year.
Keep in mind the state is under a Supreme Court order to increase funding for basic services, such as education and mental-health services.
The Legislature increased education funding by $1.3 billion during the last session, but lawmakers from both parties agree another $3.5 billion is needed to adequately fund schools. That is a crucial investment needed to ensure the state’s future prosperity, but it would be all but impossible to make under I-1366.
Even if lawmakers defuse Eyman’s bomb by complying, the supermajority rule called for by I-1366 would hinder the Legislature’s ability to get things done.
Sam Reed, a Republican former secretary of state who opposes I-1366, explains:
“The reality of government is that when things are getting done it’s because people in the big middle are making it happen, people on both sides of the aisle are working in a bipartisan way,” he said.
“This measure would empower those hard-core ideologues on each side, either the right wing or the left wing, because all they’ve got to do is get a third to block something.”
Even if voters approve I-1366, the high court is likely to reject it as unconstitutional. But while that’s sorted out, the Legislature would be in limbo, more paralyzed than before.
Eyman acknowledges I-1366 could fail to pass constitutional muster, but said it would still send a message to Olympia.
Sadly, that message would be that voters are willing to waylay the Legislature and obstruct its progress on education reforms, just to make a fleeting point about taxes.