Last week, I pointed out that Coloradans will be voting on a ballot initiative in November that would bar the state from borrowing money, forcing it to pay for all infrastructure investments up-front with cash. But Colorado is not the only state dealing with right-wing attempts to handcuff government via the ballot box.
In Washington state, a ballot initiative — Initiative 1053 — will ask Washington voters if they want to reestablish a provision mandating that a two-thirds majority of the legislature approve any tax increases. “Taxpayers desperately need protection from job-killing, family-budget-busting tax increases,” said anti-tax crusader Tim Eyman, who is leading the effort.
Washington has already experimented with a requirement like this, which was approved at the ballot box in 2007. However, that version gave the state legislature the ability to rescind it after two years, which the legislature rightfully did when faced with the budget crunch caused by the Great Recession.
“If passed this initiative impairs the ability of Legislators to do what they were elected to do — legislate,” wrote Citizens for Tax Justice. Indeed, responsible budgeting requires raising revenue at times. And the fact is that Washington currently has one of the most regressive tax systems in the country.
Washington is actually the highest-tax state in the country for poor people, as “when all state and local sales, excise and property taxes are tallied up, Washington’s poor families pay 17.3 percent of their total income in state and local taxes,” according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. Without the ability to responsibly raise revenue, Washington’s budget will have to be continually balanced on the backs of the lower- and middle-class and the services that they count on.
Of course, Washingtonians need only look south if they want to see what a supermajority requirement can do to a state’s finances, as California has been unsuccessfully grappling with one for years. As Harold Meyerson noted, despite California’s budget woes, the Republican minority in Sacramento “has refused in good times as well as bad to raise business or other taxes (increasing the tobacco tax, for instance, has failed each of the past 14 times it has come up for a vote).” Paul Krugman seconded this, saying that California’s anti-tax zealots are able to “block any responsible action in the face of the fiscal crisis.”
While Initiative 1053 could wreak havoc with Washington budget, voters also have the chance to revamp their tax structure via another initiative:
Initiative 1098 introduces an income tax that has two brackets targeted at high income Washingtonians, reduces the state property tax, and reforms the business and occupation tax. Supporters of the initiative this week turned in well over the 241,000 signatures required to get on the ballot.
Washington’s right-wing is not alone in trying to implement a counterproductive supermajority requirement on its legislature, as Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) says he would like to do the same in his state.