Proponents of I-1185, including its primary sponsor Tim Eyman, would have voters believe the issue this initiative would address is taxes. In fact, the issue is democracy – specifically, an attack on democracy and majority rule, funded by powerful corporations and promoted by the far right.
Since California approved Proposition 13 in 1978, creating a requirement that two-thirds of legislators must vote to approve any tax increase, conservatives across America have embraced the idea that supermajorities must approve any tax increase. Their reasons are simple: Supermajority schemes like the one I-1185 tries to reimpose create give conservatives veto power over key fiscal decisions.
Consider California’s example. Democrats have had the majority in the state legislature since 1970 (aside from a two year period in the mid-1990s when Republicans had a one-seat advantage in the State Assembly).
The Republican Party in California is slowly but surely withering, unable to elect statewide candidates and with no hope of reclaiming the Legislature. But as conservatives usually make up about a third of the overall electorate, and are increasingly concentrated in specific geographic areas, they are usually able to elect at least a third of the seats in each house of the legislature. Two-thirds schemes give them a veto they would otherwise not have earned at the ballot box.
The result is inherently undemocratic. Voters in California have repeatedly elected Democrats to majorities in the legislature, but that majority cannot govern or implement its agenda. A similar situation is emerging in Washington, where Republicans are also facing a long-term political decline. They haven’t held a majority in either chamber for years. They’re not expected to retake the Senate this year, and the House looks increasingly out of reach.
Rather than address this long-term decline and try to win a legitimate governing majority at the ballot box, Washington’s conservatives have instead begun trying to change the rules and undercut our Constitution.
I-1185 is merely the latest effort to give conservatives veto power over the state’s fiscal decisions, power they haven’t earned.
The result is that the people of Washington lose power to address the problems facing the state. Particularly when it comes to education and transportation, more funding to expand services and infrastructure is desperately needed.
But with a two-thirds rule in place, the Legislature is unable to address that issue unless conservatives agree – and as we know, they won’t give their consent to any new funding. They’re even opposed to recovering revenue for our state by repealing outdated tax exemptions that have been sitting on the books for years.
The inherently undemocratic nature of I-1185 is exacerbated by the fact that it is on the ballot only thanks to some of the nation’s wealthiest businesses. Oil companies and the beer lobby are among the largest contributors to the campaign in support of I-1185, as they were two years ago for I-1053, which was declared unconstitutional in May by King County Superior Court Judge Bruce Heller. (The Supreme Court is currently weighing an appeal).
These companies would face higher taxes under a democratic legislative process that reflected the will of the people. But rather than submit to democracy, these companies have decided to eliminate it when it comes to raising revenue – one of the most important decisions the people’s elected representatives have to make. Their friends on the right, including the Washington State Republican Party, are more than happy to assist, since they share this hostility to democracy.
Most Washingtonians are of an open mind when it comes to taxes. They make their decisions based on whether they agree with the purpose of a tax, on the nature of what will be taxed, and whether they believe the process of taxation is fair. If they want to elect a legislature that would raise taxes in order to ensure children are given a good education and that people can get around the state affordably and sustainably, that should be their right. I-1185 takes away those rights and hands the power over those decisions to a small political fringe and their wealthy backers.
The choice facing voters this fall isn’t about taxes. It’s about democracy. More and more organizations across the state are coming to understand this choice, as they increasingly line up against I-1185. We still don’t yet know how the Legislature will solve our many pressing problems – the days of backfilling to keep important services going for another year or two are over.
By stopping I-1185, we can at least give our elected leaders a fair shot at solving those problems democratically.