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Originally published January 13, 2010 at 4:41 PM | Page modified January 15, 2010 at 3:43 PM

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Legislature should retain I-960's tax-raising threshold

The Seattle Times Editorial Board says the Washington state Legislature should not sweep aside Initiative 960, a measure that has raised the bar for raising taxes.

DEMOCRATIC leaders in Olympia should not be so eager to brush aside Initiative 960, which sets the two-thirds threshold for the Legislature to raise taxes. The people have voted for a two-thirds rule three times — in 1993, 1998 and in 2007. Clearly they want it that way.

Without I-960, the Legislature can raise taxes with a simple majority of both houses and signature of the governor. I-960 raises the bar by requiring a two-thirds vote of both houses or a vote of the people. Raising taxes is not impossible — hardly that — but it is more difficult.

The state constitution protects successful initiatives for two years. During that time they can be modified with a two-thirds vote of both houses. Last month, the two years were up for I-960, which can now be brushed aside with simple majorities. But that is not what the people wanted.

I-960 has other provisions the people want. One is that Office of Financial Management must calculate the 10-year cost of every revenue-raising bill introduced. For every such bill, OFM must send out an e-mail to interested members of the public and the press of the costs, hearing dates, legislative votes and contact information for lawmakers.

This is information to make democracy better, and it will go away if I-960 does.

I-960 has another provision to improve democracy. Under the state constitution, once a law is passed, the people can collect signatures and place that law on the ballot for a vote. For example, in 2004, when the Legislature passed a charter-school law, the teachers' union collected signatures for a referendum and the voters repealed the law.

The state constitution guarantees the people's right of referendum except when the Legislature declares an emergency. I-960 says that if legislators block a public vote on a tax increase by declaring an emergency, the tax law will be on the next November's ballot, with the names in the Voter's Pamphlet of all the legislators, and whether they supported it. It would be an advisory vote only — a kind of embarrassment vote.

Two years ago, this page supported I-960, and we still do. The situation in Olympia now is what the people had in mind when they passed it. Legislators are playing with dynamite if they repeal it.

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