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No to Initiative 1053 and tying legislators’ hands

Post by Kim Bradford on Sep. 22, 2010 at 5:58 pm |
September 24, 2010 5:40 pm

This editorial will appear in Thursday’s print edition.

Supporters of Initiative 1053 argue that time is of the essence. Voters must act now to save the supermajority requirement for tax increases or cede the fight.

We beg to differ: Timing is I-1053’s downfall, not its selling point.

The measure purports to resurrect Initiative 960, which voters narrowly approved in 2007. What I-1053 really does is merely buy supermajority backers another two years of insurance against legislative intervention.

The 15 other states that require a supermajority for tax increases have seen fit to include the requirement in their state constitutions. This state has not. But the framers of our constitution did give the Legislature the power to amend a citizens initiative with a simple majority vote after two years.

Tim Eyman, author of both I-960 and I-1053, has made good use of that two-year window of protection.

Lawmakers inevitably find all or part of his measures onerous or unworkable – if a court doesn’t strike them down first. When that happens, Eyman is ready with a sequel and a fresh round of fundraising.

Earlier this month, the Everett Herald editorial board said I-1053 “could more descriptively be dubbed the Tim Eyman Personal Employment Act of 2010.” And that’s from a newspaper that endorsed his initiative.

I-1053 supporters might argue that Eyman would be out of a job if the Legislature and judges would leave well enough alone. I-1053 is, in their eyes, the latest in a series of efforts to restore the will of the voters.

First, let’s get one thing straight: Rumors of I-960’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. The supermajority requirement for tax increases isn’t dead; it’s just been benched until next July while state lawmakers deal with a budget crisis of historic proportions.

I-1053 would simply reinstate it a few months early, in time for the 2011 legislative session.

We are sympathetic to concerns that the continued suspension of the supermajority requirement will discourage true budget reform. Lawmakers have not done enough to restructure and downsize state government.

But as much as voters should press lawmakers to trim state spending, the Legislature also needs some latitude to protect core social services. The hole in the next state budget is $4.5 billion and growing; it is not a foregone conclusion that lawmakers will be able to balance the books on cuts alone.

I-1053 would give a minority party outsized power to block tax increases while also disavowing the painful choices forced by hits to existing revenues.

The majority could go directly to the voters for approval – at the risk of waiting months for a budget patch that may never materialize. The Legislature, given the magnitude of the state’s fiscal problems, needs to act more nimbly than that.

The News Tribune editorial board recommends a no vote on I-1053.

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