Inside Opinion

What's on the minds of Tacoma News Tribune editorial writers

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Archives: Feb. 2013

Feb.
28th

Legislature decides taxes; voters decide Legislature

This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.

Washington does three kinds of democracy: direct, representative and constitutional. Direct democracy came up short in Thursday’s state Supreme Court ruling on taxes; the other two came out ahead.

Several times since 1993, voters have approved initiatives that require a two-thirds supermajority in the Legislature to approve new taxes without a vote of the people. Nearly 64 percent of the electorate went for the last two initiatives, in 2012 and 2010. The 2012 version, I-1185, carried with nearly 1.9 million votes.

This is a partisan issue in the Legislature, where most Democrats want the latitude to collect more taxes for education, social services and public payrolls. Among Washington Republicans, opposition to taxes appears to have become the only unifying principle.

Things don’t break down so neatly in the electorate itself. Washington doesn’t have 1.9 million Republicans. Most independents, presumably, and a lot of Democrats have been voting for those supermajority initiatives. Washingtonians seem quite content to elect Democrats majorities to the House and Senate; they just don’t want to give them any spending money.

Washingtonians won’t be able to have it both ways under the high court’s 6-3 ruling.

The majority opinion, written by Justice Susan Owens, argued that the framers of the Washington Constitution knew what they were doing when they required supermajorities for some decisions – such as overriding a governor’s veto – but simple majorities for others.

If you take the logic of extra-constitutional supermajorities far enough, a problem becomes obvious. What’s to stop, for example, an initiative from demanding a three-quarters majority before taxes can be enacted? Four-fifths?

An initiative could conceivably prevent the Legislature from doing anything at all about taxation – which happens to be one of its core constitutional responsibilities.
Read more »

Feb.
27th

Don’t chip away at public disclosure

This editorial will appear in Thursday’s print edition.

For public officials, laws requiring government transparency can be a royal pain. We get that.

Those laws mean they have to publicize meetings and allow in citizens who might be quarrelsome or reporters who might ask uncomfortable questions.

And those laws mean they have to respond to citizens and media representatives requesting public records – even requests that might be time-consuming or seem unreasonable.

But open government laws are on the books for a reason: Read more »

Feb.
27th

One area where South Korea is ahead of us: It has a woman president

outh Korea's new President Park Geun-hye leaves after her inauguration at parliament in Seoul, South Korea, Monday, Feb. 25, 2013. Elected in December, Park is believed to be the first Korean woman to rule in a millennium. (AP Photo/Kim Hong-Ji,
South Korea’s new president, Park Geun-hye, leaves after her inauguration Monday in Seoul, South Korea. (AP Photo/Kim Hong-Ji)

On Monday, Park Geun-hye became South Korea’s first woman president. How did that country – which lags the United States in most surveys of how well women are doing – elect a woman to its highest office before we did?

As the following article points out, Park is well known in South Korea, the daughter of a longtime dictator. She has a sympathy factor going for her as well; her mother was killed in 1974 by an assassin aiming at her father (who was himself assassinated in 1979).

Even so, she must have strong political chops to win the presidency. She is a conservative, market-oriented politician who in the past campaigned on a platform of tax cuts, less regulation, and strong law and order. She has a reputation for keeping promises she makes. No wonder she’s popular.

Here’s the article about her we’re running Friday in the print edition. Read more »

Feb.
26th

Pierce Transit tax needs sunset, not a gerrymander

This editorial will appear in Wednesday’s print edition.

Pierce Transit has a credibility problem with the citizens who live within its taxing district. It should solve that problem at home, not do an end run through the Legislature.

Twice in the last two years, the transit agency has put a sales tax proposal on the ballot only to see it shot down by voters. In November, the second measure came within a cat’s whisker of success, falling short by barely more than 700 votes.

That tiny margin demonstrated that the agency could win the revenues it needs to prevent a drastic cutback in bus service. But it would have to abandon its insistence that the tax be chiseled into stone in perpetuity.

Had last fall’s measure contained a reasonable sunset clause – requiring a new vote after, say, six years – there’s little question it would have passed.

All is not lost. Pierce Transit’s leaders could still secure passage of a new sales tax by holding the agency accountable through a future vote. But transit supporters are seeking to game the process in Olympia to avoid another reckoning with the district’s electorate.
Read more »

Feb.
25th

What’s the hurry to end-run payday loan reforms?

This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.

Senate Bill 5312 is such a bad idea, one of its cosponsors ended up voting against it.

Even so, the legislation – essentially an end run around much-needed payday lending reforms the Legislature made in 2010 – passed the state Senate last week 30-18 and now is in the House. There it will be shepherded by state Rep. Steve Kirby, D-Tacoma, a longtime champion of the payday lending industry.

Passage in the House would be unfortunate and most certainly would result in more vulnerable, low-income people being exploited by an industry that has a long history of doing just that.
Read more »

Feb.
24th

So how do sales to minors stop under I-502?

This editorial will appear in Monday’s print edition.

One goal should be paramount as the state Liquor Control Board tries to build a legal marijuana industry from scratch: Keeping the drug away from adolescents.

The people behind Initiative 502 promised – we believe in good faith – that the ballot measure would help discourage teenagers from getting into pot. We were skeptical and remain so, though we’d love to be proven wrong.

No responsible person thinks it’s a good idea for 15-year-olds to consume cannabis. For many adults, the drug is a take-it-or-leave-it diversion. It’s another story for kids with developing brains: Marijuana can knock them out of school, turn them into daily users and derail their lives.

I-502 has already removed one of the chief deterrents to marijuana use: the stigma of illegality. Teenagers pick up on signals from adults. This signal says, “Pot? No big deal.”

The initiative proposed to counter this by making the existing black market go away. Thousands of traffickers and grow operations would be replaced by a tightly controlled system of licensed farmers and retail stores. The rules would be written and enforced by the state Liquor Control Board.

The board has been gathering testimony on what the system should look like. At hearings around the state, it has been deluged by – surprise! – big crowds of traffickers and growers who want in on the deal. They want lots of people – namely, themselves – to get the lucrative farming and retailing licenses the board will be passing out some months from now.

A lot of licensees is bad – very bad – if sales to minors are in fact an overriding concern.

Will it be easier for the Liquor Control Board to police 200 retailers or 2,000? The question answers itself. The board cannot direct the flow of marijuana if it waves a magic wand over the existing black market and calls it legal.
Read more »

Feb.
23rd

Amid the evils of sequestration, a glimmer of virtue

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

The sequester – automated, indiscriminate cuts across much of the federal government – was designed to be inconceivably stupid. So stupid that Republicans and Democrats would compromise on a deficit-cutting plan rather than let it take effect this Friday.

But they didn’t, and here it comes. A heresy now occurs to us: Among the sequester’s intended bad consequences, it may have an unintended good consequence: In the initial months, it could deliver a dose of shock therapy to the federal budget.

Congress needs some kind of shock. Compare the way it spends money with the way most states spend money.

When money gets tight in Olympia, for example, Washington governors force state agencies to practice triage.

Department heads are ordered to scrutinize their agencies’ activities and rank them in order of importance. What is necessary? What is nice but unnecessary?

What is just a perpetuation of old spending habits?

What would they keep if they had to give up, say, 5 percent of their money?

Nothing so systematic ever happens on the federal level, where trillions of dollars are spent every year without any overriding set of priorities.
Read more »

Feb.
23rd

The Republic of Hollywood

Clint Eastwood in "Dirty Harry" (Warner Bros.)
Clint Eastwood in “Dirty Harry” (Warner Bros.)

Just in time for Sunday’s Academy Awards comes this op-ed from The Washington Post: “Welcome to the Republic of Hollywood.” Author Jim Cullen writes that “in Hollywood, as in politics, one of the recurring themes is our national ambivalence about powerful institutions — religious, economic, military or political — and their influence over everyday life.” In this op-ed, he looks at how six Oscar-winning actors tell the story of America.

By Jim Cullen/Special to The Washington Post.

A box office is not a voting booth, but they have their similarities. Neither is entirely democratic in the ways it offers choices, and each is a little too deferential to market forces. But both tell stories about the state of the nation, produced by teams that are fronted by star performers.

In politics, some of the most successful performers take on multiple roles. Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, Barack Obama: Their stories have offered versions of the country — where it had been, where it was headed. Some were stories of restoration, others of progress.

In the Republic of Hollywood, it’s movie stars, not politicians, who rule. And in Hollywood, as in politics, one of the recurring themes is our national ambivalence about powerful institutions — religious, economic, military or political — and their influence over everyday life. Read more »