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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Washington Voters To Decide Tim Eyman's Latest Tax-Limiting Initiative

Wealthy donors helped get Initiative 1366 on the ballot. Now Washington voters will decide whether to approve Tim Eyman’s latest effort to require a two-thirds vote of the legislature or a vote of the people for tax hikes.

I-1366 is different than past Eyman initiatives. That’s because in 2013 the Washington Supreme Court tossed out the last voter-approved supermajority rule as unconstitutional. This new initiative would reduce state sales tax from 6.5 percent to 5.5 percent unless:

  • lawmakers send voters a constitutional amendment requiring a two-thirds vote of the legislature or a vote of the people to raise taxes, and majority legislative approval for free increases
  • constitutional amendments in Washington require a two-thirds votes of the legislature and ratification by a simple majority of Washington voters

That decrease in the state sales tax would result in an estimated $8 billion penalty over six years.
'It holds our kids hostage'

Supporters call it an incentive for the legislature to act. Opponents consider it hostage-taking.

“That’s what Tim Eyman and 1366 does: it holds our kids hostage,” Democratic state Representative Chris Reykdal said. He’s vice chair of the House Education Committee and an opponent of a super majority threshold for taxes.

“A two-thirds requirement is a partisan, political, self-interest attack to protect the status quo of the tax code to privilege the few,” Reykdal added.

Washington unions are funding a modest “No on 1366” campaign. Angel Morton, head of the Tacoma teachers’ union, noted the state legislature is currently in contempt of court over school funding.

“We can’t afford to gamble with the future of our kids, we can’t afford to gamble with $8 billion,” Morton said. “We need to know that money is going to be available for the future of our children.”

Morton said what Washington needs is comprehensive tax reform -- not tax limits.

'Taxation without representation is wrong'

Fremont is one of Seattle’s most liberal neighborhoods. Think naked people riding bikes and a statue of Vladimir Lenin. But the woman who’s been called the unofficial mayor of Fremont is a self-avowed conservative.

“I do have friends from time to time say ‘what do you have a statue of Lenin for?’ and I say, ‘not my statue,’” Suzie Burke said.

Burke may not own the statue or the land it sits on. But her family real estate company -- The Fremont Dock Company -- owns a good chunk of Fremont. About 60 acres.

Taxes are a prickly subject with Burke.

“I go argue about my taxes if I don’t see something right,” she said.

Which helps explain why her company contributed $45,000 to I-1366 on the November ballot. Burke not only contributed to get the measure on the ballot, she signed onto the voters’ guide statement that urges a “yes” vote.

“This fits me to a T,” Burke said. And she thinks it fits Washington too. She noted voters have approved a supermajority threshold for taxes five times over the last 20 years.

“This is our chance to make it permanent and to let our elected officials know this is the way it works now,” Burke said.

She added that she’s not the only one who supports 1366. While Patti Bishop, co-owner of Fremont’s Mischief Distillery, said she often disagrees with Eyman, “On this issue we’re totally aligned with what he’s going after because taxation without representation is wrong,” she said.

Of course, it’s all in how you define representation. If 1366 does pass in November, it will likely face another test in the courts. Opponents are sure to challenge its constitutionality.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."