Kate Riley / Times staff columnist
The Washington State Senate and the age of hubris
Leaders in the Democratic-controlled Washington Legislature should have tried to comply with Initiative 960 before gutting it, writes Times editorial columnist Kate Riley. Even as Senate Democrats suspended the initiative temporarily, they should have retained transparency rules.
Seattle Times editorial columnist
It is sad to see an opportunity for bootstrap leadership to be so utterly squandered — even worse to see Washingtons' Democratic-controlled Senate resort to moves evocative of professional wrestling for political ends.
Tuesday Senate Democrats passed a bill temporarily suspending the voter-approved Initiative 960, which requires the Legislature to have a two-thirds majority to enact significant tax increases. Then they claimed confusion and came back Wednesday and passed a bill that will do an even better job of covering their tax-raising tracks.
Let me say here, I did not vote for I-960, and I think a mix of budget cuts and some tax increases is a reasonable approach to the state's $2.6 billion budget deficit — though heavy on the former. Reopening state union contracts to eliminate all state employee raises and bringing health-care benefits more in line with the private sector ought to be a starting point before the state taxes Washington's legions of the laid-off, furloughed and/or nervous.
Pause for a radical thought: Why not try, just try to get to a supermajority to approve any measured, necessary tax increases before gutting this initiative? The lack of effort is not confidence inspiring.
I'm not the only cranky taxpayer starting to lose patience with a governor and Democratic-controlled Legislature that knowingly approved unsustainable budgets. The overspending made the state extra vulnerable when the recession crashed in and state revenues dropped precipitously.
Here's what sticks in my craw about Senate Democratic action this week.
On Tuesday, the Senate Democrats approved a bill to eliminate I-960's requirement that the Legislature needs two-thirds of members to approve significant tax increases. But here's the redeeming part: The law's transparency provisions — asking voters' opinion on what they think of the new taxes already imposed and connecting lawmakers directly to their votes to raise taxes would have been retained.
Apparently the Senate Democrats were, gosh, confused and said they passed a bill they didn't understand. Really? On such an important issue. Confidence-inspiring, huh?
Late the next night, Senate Democrats rammed through a more offensive remedy to their tax-increase problem. In the bill now headed to the House, the whole initiative — its accountability measures, everything — would be suspended through July 1, 2011.
That means voters won't get reports about the expected costs of proposed bills or have the delicious juxtaposition of next November's voter's pamphlet listing legislators who voted to raise their taxes with the ballot carrying the names of those very lawmakers running for re-election.
Apparently, the good senators know best, and they don't need any second-guessing from busybody constituents or electoral outcomes decided by more-informed voters.
Last fall, I was cheered along with a lot of folks over what appeared to be a new era of Washington's perennial initiative entrepreneur Tim Eyman as less of a factor in state government.
Washington voters, in their shrewd wisdom, resisted the temptation of his latest, Initiative 1033, which would have state and local governments showering them with a projected $8 billion in property tax refunds from 2011-15. Tempting to be sure in this ragged recession, especially now that taxpayers must pick their mail ballot from their piles of bills.
But wise voters said no because it was, finally, just too much and would hurt government operations. But it seems the Democrats in the Legislature — at least those in the Senate so far — are not feeling the love reciprocally. It seems the Legislature is willing to trust the people only so far when it comes to information about their tax-raising decisions.
They sure seem to be rerolling out the red carpet for Eyman's brand of sledgehammer legislating. They all but ensure Eyman's next project will land on the November ballot: Initiative 1053, the "Save The 2/3's Vote For Tax Increases Initiative."
Kate Riley's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org