New initiative drive intended to restore state's I-601 tax,
Richard Davis; News Tribune columnist
Olympia, WA - 4/4/02 - Sen. Dino Rossi (R-Sammamish) wants to give
state taxpayers a chance to
Rossi, ranking member of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, supports
initiative to re-establish the state tax-and-expenditure limit adopted
the voters in 1993.
He says "if everything goes right" the Legislature will return
facing a billion-dollar shortfall, and it could be worse. That's
lawmakers relied on shaky assumptions and used one-time tactics to pull
revenues into the operating budget, gimmicks that won't be available
"They've set us up for one of the largest tax increases in
history," he says of the Democrats who control the Legislature.
Since voters passed Initiative 601 following the 1993 legislative
in which business taxes were increased by nearly a billion dollars -
lawmakers have been compelled to operate within stringent budget
guidelines. I-601 links spending growth to a formula based on
state population and inflation and requires a two-thirds majority for
increases and transfers from the emergency reserve fund.
Under Washington law, however, initiatives can be amended after two
by a simple majority vote. So, voting largely along party lines,
Legislature simply suspended the supermajority requirements of I-601.
the governor signed the bill, lawmakers were able to tap reserves and
taxes. The looser rules are in effect through June 30, 2003.
To avoid substantial tax hikes next year, Rossi contends, voters need
protection of a strengthened tax-and-spending limit. With a small
leadership group, he's drumming up support among business groups and
seeking the endorsement of major corporations.
The effort is young. The initiative has yet to be assigned a
the campaign organization hasn't settled on a name (at present, it is
Save Our Spending Limits Committee).
Nonetheless, Lindsay Echelbarger, the group's chairman, expresses
confidence in their eventual success. A Snohomish County
active in Republican circles, Echelbarger acknowledges that business
have generally been skeptical of initiatives, preferring to work through
"We have to accept the world as we find it," he says.
"We have an
initiative process in this state, and it was intended to address the big
issues. Setting an outer boundary on state spending is one of
large-scale, substantive issues."
Besides, as he and Rossi observe, Washington state has had nearly a
of experience with the I-601 limits. Their proposal extends a
has already demonstrated its worth.
"The mess we're in right now," Rossi says, "would have
been much worse if
601 hadn't been in place." He cites tax relief, slower expenditure
and the building of budget reserves as significant accomplishments in
immediately after 601 was adopted. Similar benefits will follow
a new limit, he believes.
"If they can't go to the revenue side," he says of
have to look at the size and growth of state government."
One obstacle he faces: Many business leaders have made passage of the
statewide transportation package, which includes a 9-cent gas tax
their top ballot priority this fall.
Some fear that having a tax limit on the ballot would bring out voters
likely to oppose the gas tax.
Echelbarger says the measures are complementary and notes that he and
members of the Save Our Spending Limits Committee support the
Backers of the gas tax must realize that many grass-roots conservatives
distrustful of government, he says. With a limitation measure
ballot, such voters can be more confident that their support of a
transportation tax won't be followed by another round of tax increases
Most likely, with or without active business involvement, the campaign
a new tax-and-spending limit will succeed in qualifying the
initiative. While many voters don't remember I-601, when it's
them, they like it.
The best justification for the initiative process is that it checks the
power of the Legislature, including the power to tax and spend.
recent special interest initiatives, well-crafted tax-and-expenditure
limits preserve the Legislature's ability to set budget priorities
reasonable constraints. In a more nearly perfect political world,
limits would not be necessary.
That, however, is not the world in which we live.
- - -
Richard S. Davis, president of the Washington Research Council,
this page every other Wednesday. His columns do not necessarily
the views of the council. Write Davis at email@example.com
Washington Research Council, 108 S. Washington St., Suite
406, Seattle, WA 98104-3408.