Op-Ed: Majority party testing the waters for tax increases
If you're tempted to give a standing ovation to the state Supreme Court for its decision not to take up a test case that could have made it easier for the Legislature to raise taxes, you might want to hold your applause. While it's a victory for taxpayers, it may be short-lived.
A little history is in order to help you understand the Supreme Court's March 5 case dismissal.
In 1993, voters approved Initiative 601, which required the Legislature to have a two-thirds supermajority to raise taxes. After two years, the Legislature can change any part of an initiative, which is what lawmakers did. Several times, the Legislature amended and suspended the two-thirds provision. Then voters approved Initiative 960 in November 2007, which broadened and strengthened this requirement.
Democrats have majorities in both the House and the Senate, but they do not have enough votes to reach the two-thirds requirement — and Republicans have been standing firmly against tax increases.
Frustrated by the inability to raise taxes without a simple majority, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown used Lt. Gov. Brad Owen's ruling against a proposed $10 million tax increase to challenge the constitutionality of the law. Owen, who presides over the Senate, ruled the tax increase proposal failed because it did not get supermajority support.
Had the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Brown, it would have made it easier for the Legislature to raise taxes. Instead, it dismissed the case, essentially saying it wasn't going to become involved in what it considered a dispute over parliamentary procedure.
Why is this important? Because it clearly shows the direction majority party leaders are heading to close an enormous budget shortfall.
Tomorrow, the state's revenue forecast will be released. Preliminary figures indicate Washington's budget shortfall is $8.3 billion. I suspect it may be larger.
You would think with such a gap, the budget would be the Legislature's top priority. Instead, we're in day 66 of the scheduled 105-day session tinkering with bills that would increase buffers on highways for bikes, give felons voting rights without completing their restitution, and prohibit sports water bottles. We have yet to pass a bill to provide a major spending reduction for either the current or coming biennium.
If the Legislature doesn't reduce spending, what's left? Tax increases.
Sen. Brown's response to the Supreme Court ruling is very telling: “That decision doesn't change the outcome of where we're heading. Any major revenue option would have been presented to the voters anyway.”
It seems clear not only is a tax package coming, but the majority party won't have the courage to defend and vote on their own proposal. They will send it on to you, the voter, so they're off the hook politically for tax increases.
You cannot tax your way into prosperity. If the Legislature fails to reduce spending, it will only result in deeper deficits in the future. Meantime, more than 300,000 Washingtonians are out of work. Each day an additional 400 people are losing their jobs. How can citizens afford tax increases when they can barely put groceries on the table?
We can balance this budget. We don't need tax increases. We need the intestinal fortitude to say no to special interests, prioritize spending on the most basic and necessary functions of government, and learn to live within our means. That's when a standing ovation will be in order.
EDITOR'S NOTE: State Rep. Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, represents the 39th Legislative District, and also serves as chairman of the Washington House Republican Caucus. He can be contacted at (360) 786-7967 or from his Web site at: houserepublicans.wa.gov/Kristiansen.