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‘Defeat 1098′ Claims Legislators Will Extend Income Tax in Two Years

Defeat 1098 has put together a list of ‘facts’ (identified as ‘facts’ in its navigation, but listed as ‘reasons’ on the dedicated page) as to why voters should rally against I-1098. Its first claim:

We can’t trust the politicians in Olympia with an income tax. If this state income tax on ‘the rich’ is passed, our constitution allows a simple majority of the legislature to extend the income tax to everyone in just two years.

This alleged “fact” is actually half-speculation and half-fact.

The fact is that lawmakers would need a two-thirds votes in the House and Senate for the first two years, but only a simple majority after that.

The speculation is that the legislature will extend the income tax.

Defeat 1098 implies that legislature will take advantage of the state income tax and apply it to more people than the initial income bracket. Defeat 1098 says the legislature has been “very willing to ignore voter-approved initiatives on spending limits, tax increases, education funding and other matters,” which is why it speculates legislature will leverage the income tax despite the voice of initiative voters. This, too, is true. For example, lawmakers suspended tax-limiting Initiative 960 this year (ushering in I-1053).

On February 25, 2010, Secretary of State Sam Reed’s office noted that the Washington legislature can amend initiatives because voters gave the legislature that power in 1952 when voters amended the constitution (emphasis per original):

[I]nitiatives have been repealed or suspended ever since the process was created nearly 100 years ago.  The first successful initiative, Prohibition, was later repealed.  A review by the state Elections Division showed that since 1952, when voters amended the constitution to make it easier for lawmakers to amend voter-approved initiatives, at least 30 have been changed or suspended.

Before the constitutional amendment of 1952, lawmakers couldn’t touch a voter-approved initiative for the first two years after the vote, but then could change or repeal by a simple majority.  The change, adopted by a large majority, said initiatives can be changed, repealed or suspended by a two-thirds vote of both houses during the first two years after passage, and simple majority after that.

What the opposition speculation doesn’t take into consideration is that the legislature is as equally empowered to do nothing with the tax in two years. They could even overturn it.

According to the Tacoma News Tribune Smell Test:

[I]f the Legislature did enlarge the income tax, it could be put to voters via a referendum. Opponents would need to obtain the signatures of a certain number of voters (the threshold stands at 120,557 today) to put it on the ballot, or the Legislature could submit it to a vote of the people.

Either way, if I-1098 passes and Defeat 1098′s speculation proves true — legislators do attempt to expand the income — tax, the voters will have a voice via referendum, ballot or votes against incumbents to counter aggressive tax expansions. And proponents of I-1098 have pledged (full page ad in the Seattle Times October 24) that

[I]n the unlikely event that the Legislature attempts to broaden the income tax without a public vote, we will write, file and collect signatures for a ballot measure to ensure that the people have the final say on any change to this modest income tax on the very wealthy.

Learn more about Initiative 1098

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