Prolific initiative sponsor and serial liar Tim Eyman sent out an email this morning once again taking aim at the grand tax reform proposal unveiled by State Treasurer Jim McIntire and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn back in the spring. Though the proposal is over six months old, Eyman was irked that The Herald of Everett published an editorial this week praising it, and suggesting it “deserves a full discussion in the Legislature and by the public.”
We consider McIntire’s proposal too flawed to merit consideration, because it would sabotage our tradition of majority rule for bills and budgets, which states back to statehood and is good for Democrats and Republicans alike.
Eyman also considers the proposal a nonstarter, of course, though for different reasons. He’s opposed to doing any kind of progressive tax reform, period.
Eyman was so annoyed to see The Herald taking up the cause of progressive tax reform that he created and circulated a statement responding to the editorial.
It contained the following claim:
Voters have […] never supported a state income tax. Government policies can only be sustained with “the consent of the governed.” There is no consent for a state income tax.
Never is a pretty strong word. Oxford defines it as “at no time in the past or future; on no occasion; not ever.” Never is an absolutist term, like its sibling always.
We at NPI believe history matters. Our President, Robert Cruickshank, is a history major, and we’re all fond of the subject. A quick glance at Washington’s long electoral history shows that Tim Eyman’s claim is wrong (surprise, surprise!)
In the 1932 presidential election, the people of the State of Washington were asked to decide the fate of Initiative 69. The ballot title of I‑69 was as follows:
An Act relating to and requiring the payment of a graduated tax on the incomes of persons, firms, corporations, associations, joint stock companies and common law trusts, the proceeds therefrom to be placed in the state current school fund and other state funds, as a means of reducing or eliminating the annual tax on general property which now provides revenues for such funds; providing penalites for violation; and making an appropriation from the general fund of the state treasury for paying expenses of administration of the act.
In the 1932 voter’s pamphlet, Initiative Measure No. 69 was labeled very simply and clearly as “Income tax”. It was the last of that year’s crop of ballot measures.
How did it fare? Very, very well. In fact, it got more support than any initiative Tim Eyman has ever qualified for the ballot! As you can see from the results below, Washington voters backed I‑69 by a nearly three-to-one margin:
Now, you might be wondering why we don’t have an income tax today, given that Washingtonians voted so overwhelmingly to create one in 1932.
The reason we don’t is that in 1933, conservative businesspeople challenged the validity of I‑69 in the courts. After initially deadlocking, the Washington State Supreme Court ultimately ruled, 5–4, that I‑69 was unconstitutional. Washington’s newly-created income tax was dead. Subsequent attempts to revive it have failed.
Tim Eyman knows a lot about initiatives being thrown out by the courts. Most of the schemes he’s gotten past the voters since 1999 have been been declared unconstitutional, in whole or in part. His track record for writing sound law is awful.
We are still living with the consequences of the Supreme Court’s decision against I‑69 today. It’s a decision regarded by many constitutional law experts as bizarre (Tim Eyman would say goofy) because its reasoning doesn’t make much sense.
In all the decades since, the Court has never revisited its decision, because it has never had the opportunity to. In the 1970s, Washington did have a pro-income tax Legislature and a pro-income tax executive, but Governor Dan Evans and his team opted to pursue tax reform through a constitutional amendment.
Evans twice persuaded two-thirds of the Legislature to amend Washington’s Constitution to explicitly provide for an income tax, thereby overturning the Court’s decision, but voters rejected both amendments.
Respected constitutional law expert Hugh Spitzer, who teaches the subject at the University of Washington, doesn’t believe a constitutional amendment is necessary. In a 1993 article (PDF), he contended an income tax could be lawfully enacted without making any changes to Washington’s plan of government.
Five years ago, Washington voters were given the opportunity to do just that with Initiative 1098, but they said no. I‑1098 was an initiative to the people that proposed levying an income tax on high earners. Had it passed, the constitutionality of an income tax would almost certainly have been litigated again.
Despite what Tim Eyman wants everyone to think, research shows voters remain open to the idea of an income tax. In 2012, the University of Washington’s highly-acclaimed Washington Poll asked the following question (PDF):
The state of Washington is currently facing a budget deficit of over $1.4 billion dollars. In an effort to reduce the deficit some people have suggested that we create a state income tax only on households making more than 500 hundred thousand dollars per year. Do you agree or disagree with the creation of a state income tax on wealthy households?
44% of the respondents interviewed for Wave 2 of the poll responded that they agreed (25% strongly), while 48% of respondents disagreed (34.5% strongly). 4.3% said they neither agreed nor disagreed, and 3% weren’t sure.
At the time a representative sample of statewide voters was being asked this question, it had been two years since the double-digit failure of I‑1098 in 2010, and voters were casting ballots in the 2012 presidential election. The poll was in the field from October 18th — 31st, 2012; 722 registered voters and 632 likely voters were interviewed under the supervision of Matt Baretto.
The Washington Poll’s finding of only 48% opposition to a state income tax on high earners, coming a mere two years after 64.15% of voters rejected an initiative which proposed doing precisely that, was quite significant.
It’s worth noting that respondents were only asked about levying an income tax in response to a budget deficit, not enacting a progressive tax reform package that would also lower or eliminate other taxes.
Anyone reading this post who questions the validity of this information ought to know that The Washington Poll’s Wave 2 findings accurately predicted many of the actual election results in the 2012 presidential election.
For example, the poll found 56.40% support for Barack Obama among registered voters and 57.1% among likely voters. In the actual results, Obama got 56.16%.
The poll also found Jay Inslee with a slight edge over Rob McKenna (47.2% to 45.5% among registered voters) with some voters still undecided. Again, the poll was proved correct. Inslee won with 51.54% of the vote, to McKenna’s 48.46%.
For U.S. Senate in 2012, the poll found Maria Cantwell had 59.4% support among registered voters, and 60.8% among likely voters. In the actual results, Cantwell won with 60.45% of the vote statewide against extremist Michael Baumgartner.
Polls really don’t get more accurate than this.
Most states in the United States levy an income tax. We don’t, and contrary to The Seattle Times’ 2010 editorializing, that puts us at a disadvantage. Our tax system is regressive and unstable. It’s holding us back. We need to reform it. A fair tax system is one that is based on ability to pay, and ours isn’t.
The reason that Tim Eyman speaks out against progressive tax reform so frequently is that he fears it. Were it to happen, it could reduce the appetite for his anti-tax initiatives among key segments of the electorate. Eyman wants our tax system to stay as broken as possible. He feeds on mistrust in government.
But what’s good for Tim Eyman is not good for the State of Washington. We believe most Washingtonians want to strengthen our government and make it work more effectively, not tear it apart. Progressive tax reform would be a huge step forward. An income tax, a tax expenditure budget, fairer property taxes, capital gains tax, lower sales tax, and the elimination of the business and occupation tax are precisely what our state needs to become more fiscally healthy and economically competitive.