State voters were generous – if there wasn’t a price

The News TribuneNovember 8, 2012 

Tuesday’s election returns suggest that Washington is becoming a libertarian paradise – a place where gays can marry, marijuana is legal and parents might even be given the choice of independent schools for their children.

But oh, by the way – not a penny more for public education or other state programs.

A telltale piece of evidence lies deep in the down-ballot election returns, in the tally on two advisory votes that have no legal effect whatsoever.

The 2012 Legislature voted to end a tax break for big banks and maintain a soon-to-expire tax on petroleum inventories.

Both moves got broad bipartisan support in the Legislature. When candidates talk about “loopholes,” they’re talking about items like the banks’ deduction for home-loan interest and tax breaks for the petroleum industry.

What did the voters think? Apparently, if it can be construed as a tax increase – even for a coddled industry – they don’t like it. On election day, the big banks got a 58 percent thumbs-up from the electorate.

Meanwhile, Washingtonians overwhelmingly enacted Initiative 1185, which reaffirmed the existing requirement that new taxes and fees need a two-thirds majority in the Legislature. Even with two-thirds, the lawmakers in that supermajority must be publicly shamed through the advisory vote process, which involves publishing their names in a rogue’s gallery in the voters’ pamphlet.

Referendum 74’s narrow victory was a breakthrough for marriage equality. But it was no money out of pocket for Washingtonians. One wonders how it might have fared had it actually required some minimal financial sacrifice to enact it. It’s a fortunate thing that civil rights don’t come with a price tag attached.

Washington’s electorate was likewise OK with legal marijuana. In fact, the 55 percent that Initiative 502 had racked up by election night probably understated its support. The only serious opposition came from the medical cannabis industry and people who wanted fewer restrictions on marijuana than I-502 contained.

Again, look at the dollars. The measure promised to tax what are now illegal, underground drug transactions – thus promising “free money” to the rest of us. Without that bribe – which is at the heart of the legalizers’ political strategy – the measure would not have cruised to victory so easily.

The problem is, some important things do require sacrifice. The Legislature must find billions of dollars to adequately fund public education as required by the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision.

Who’s got the plan? Not Jay Inslee, who seems to have won the governor’s race. The voters ruled out an income tax two years ago. Heck, they’ve even nixed taxes on candy and bottled water.

Close loopholes? If our first impulse is to protect deductions even for large banks, it’s hard to see how a political consensus for more school funding is going to materialize in this state.

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