The absurdity of yet another Tim Eyman initiative is coming to light this fall when the statewide ballot includes two advisory votes.
When voters approved Initiative 960 in 2007, requiring a two-thirds vote in the Legislature to “increase” taxes, it came with a provision allowing voters to second-guess our lawmakers, called advisory votes.
An advisory vote is really just a straw poll that legislators may consider, or not. The results of the two nonbinding votes won’t change anything.
But the absurdity is that 960 requires a “short description” of the legislation in question in 30 or fewer words.
Here’s the language for Advisory Vote No. 2: “The legislature extended, without a vote of the people, expiration of a tax on possession of petroleum products and reduced the tax rate, costing $24,000,000, in its first ten years, for government spending. This tax increase should be: Repealed [ ] Maintained [ ].”
Eyman’s initiatives are usually rich in oversimplification, and don’t take into account the voluminous and complicated materials every legislator has to understand before casting their vote in the House or Senate.
The petroleum products tax is actually going down, and it is levied on the wholesale level. The bill extends the end date of the tax to 2020 and prohibits the Legislature from raiding these funds, which are set aside for pollution cleanup operations, to balance the general fund.
It’s ridiculous to believe that individual voters can begin to grasp the complexities of the bill and its potential impacts in 30 words, which renders the advisory vote process meaningless, at best.
The other advisory vote on this year’s ballot concerns legislation that eliminated the business and occupation tax deduction for revenue from mortgages received by certain out-of-state banks. The actual bill that legislators had to digest is 45 pages. Voters will be asked to repeal or maintain these measures based solely on a 30-word description.
When the Secretary of State’s offices considered going beyond the requirements of 960 by publishing the full text of both pieces of legislation – even in small type it would have consumed 16 pages in the voters pamphlet at a cost of $15,000 per page – Eyman threatened a lawsuit that would have delayed getting the guide to voters.
As it is, the advisory votes will take two pages each, costing the state $60,000 in otherwise unnecessary printing expense.
This misguided provision of 960 creates only the illusion of pure democracy while undermining the public’s trust in lawmakers.
If voters want to second-guess their elected representatives, we already have a tried and true system for that. It’s called an election.