Seal and Outline of The Great State of Washington
Seal and Outline of The Great State of Washington

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.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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