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Thursday, October 28, 2010

End the tax tug-of-war: Vote Yes on 1053

The basic idea behind Initiative 1053 - to require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to raise taxes - is certainly not a new one.

Voters have previously approved of it on three separate occasions, only to watch elected lawmakers overturn it each time.

It's back on the ballot this year in the form of Initiative 1053, and it's timing couldn't be more critical: The economic recovery is fragile, at best. Unemployment remains high. And families and taxpayers are just beginning to absorb the $770 million tax hike that lawmakers approved earlier this year.

Amid this backdrop, lawmakers will encounter an estimated $4.5 billion state budget shortfall when they convene this January in Olympia. If they choose to follow this year's near-record tax hike with another big boost in taxes, it could have a disastrous impact on struggling businesses.

And yet without the protection of I-1053, that's exactly what The Seattle Times predicts will happen.

"If I-1053 fails, taxes will go up within six months," the newspaper said.

The Daily News of Longview, while claiming that it's generally not a fan of of supermajority requirements, said the past several budgets have convinced the editorial board that the Legislature needs a push toward fiscal reform.

"The current budget, in particular, was an eye-opener," the paper said. "It's a patchwork of one-time spending cuts, revenue enhancements and budget gimmicks. Resorting to tax increases was just too easy."

Critics of the initiative say it's "undemocratic" because it takes away the idea of "majority rules," and that it will bring California-style gridlock to Washington state. Newspaper editorial boards have exposed the fallacy of those arguments.

"The opponents should rethink that strategy," The Spokesman-Review said, pointing out that "if I-1053's foes really fancy majority rule, they should side with the majority of state voters who have approved variations of the two-thirds requirement three times, only to see it circumvented by a scant several dozen legislators in Olympia."

The Seattle Times was equally blunt: "I-1053 is a direct act of the people upon the state. You cannot get more democratic than that."

In addition, the Times discredits comparisons to California, calling claims by critics that Washington will experience California-style government gridlock a "hysterical prediction." That's because in California, legislators need a two-thirds majority of both houses to pass a budget. I-1053 only requires a two-thirds majority to approve a tax increase.

I-1053 wouldn't be necessary, of course, if lawmakers had not suspended Initiative 960, the last voter-approved supermajority requirement. Likewise, it wouldn't be necessary if lawmakers had tackled the hard work of restructuring government rather than simply raising taxes.

"On the disgust-o-meter, it's a toss-up between legislators' unwillingness to budget with restraint instead of new taxes, and their habitual willingness to dump the will of the people," the Kitsap Sun writes.

The premise of I-1053 is not new, but it's as necessary as ever. "If the people want to prevail in this, they have to impose the rule again," The Seattle Times said.

"This time," the Yakima Herald declared, "Democrats really deserve this initiative. They have repeatedly ignored calls for reforming a broken fiscal system and instead have imposed a patchwork of budget cutbacks and tax increases. Apparently the voters need to push lawmakers along into finding long-term solutions. Consider this the push."

The full list of newspapers endorsing I-1053 (with a link to the endorsement article):

* Bellevue Reporter
* Centralia Chronicle
* The Everett Herald
* Kitsap Sun
* The (Longview) Daily News
* Port Orchard Independent
* The Seattle Times
* The Spokesman-Review
* The (Vancouver) Columbian
* Walla Walla Union-Bulletin
* Wenatchee World
* Yakima Herald-Republic

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