The three tax votes on the Nov. 7 ballot are advisory only, and are required by a 2007 voter-approved initiative sponsored by anti-tax activist Tim Eyman.
OLYMPIA — Note to Washington voter newbies: This fall’s election ballot gives you three statewide tax measures to weigh in on.
They’re called advisory votes, and they concern measures already approved by the state Legislature and Gov. Jay Inslee.
The key word being “advisory,” your vote doesn’t change the law.
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The votes are the product of a 2007 voter-approved initiative sponsored by anti-tax activist Tim Eyman. They describe the recent tax increases lawmakers have approved in Olympia — and offer voters a chance to sound off on them.
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As part of the advisory votes, the Washington voters’ pamphlet includes a brief description of the tax increases, a tally of their projected costs over the next 10 years and a roll call of how every state lawmaker voted on them.
This year, one-quarter of the 31 pages in the King County edition of the state voters’ pamphlet are dedicated to the advisory votes.
Producing and distributing the eight pages of information in all the state voters’ pamphlets is estimated to cost as much as $160,653, according to the state Secretary of State’s Office.
In an interview, Eyman said the cost is worthwhile because it lets voters review billions of dollars in taxes.
“Tax advisory votes are like a tax-increase report card,” said Eyman. “We get to find out how costly the last Legislature was.”
He added, “The big thing that people always need to think of, is what kind of message do you want to send to the Legislature?”
Advisory votes have for years rankled Andrew Villeneuve, executive director of Northwest Progressive Institute and a long-running critic of Eyman.
Villeneuve argues that the information required in the voters’ pamphlet — such as the 10-year projection for taxes — is meant to influence voters against the measures.
“Anything sounds expensive when you take it out 10 years,” said Villeneuve. “And yet nobody really thinks about the cost of things over 10 years.”
For example, even as it directs many school districts to lower their local property-tax levies, a property-tax shift that is one of this year’s advisory votes would increase state taxes by nearly $13 billion over 10 years, according to the voters’ pamphlet.
The three tax measures listed in this year’s advisory votes were approved earlier this year by the Democratic-controlled state House, the Republican-held state Senate and signed by Gov. Jay Inslee.
Two were bills enacted to help pay for Washington’s new two-year state operating budget and court-ordered K-12 school-funding plan.
House Bill 2163 closed a tax exemption on bottled water and narrowed another on extracted fuels that benefited oil refineries. That legislation also expanded collection of online sales taxes.
House Bill 2242 is the K-12 plan drafted by lawmakers to address the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision, which found that Washington was unconstitutionally underfunding the state’s public schools.
That legislation includes a property-tax shift meant to reduce school districts’ reliance of local tax levies to fund basic education costs. Under the plan, the state property tax goes up everywhere in 2018, after which some districts see their local property taxes decline as those levies are lowered and capped.
The third advisory vote concerns House Bill 1597, which boosts revenue to Washington’s state wildlife account by increasing a tax related to certain commercial-fishing licenses.