Voters were asked to decide 12 advisory votes on revenue bills approved by the Legislature earlier this year. Their prominence on the ballot suggests how important they are but the truth is these votes come from a provision under initiative 960 that was passed back in 2007. It requires that any time the Legislature passes a tax increase, an advisory vote is placed on the next general election ballot.
Each tax increase triggers a separate advisory vote but no matter the outcome, the results will not change the law. What these advisory votes do provide is the opportunity for the public to weigh in on tax increases. This year’s advisory votes included increases in business and occupation taxes on services, large banks, vapor product taxation, paint stewardship taxes and a change to the state’s real estate excise tax, to name only a few. They wound up totalling nearly $9.8 billion over 10 years.
Even though no changes will occur from the outcome, for some voters the advisory votes are a big dose of reality posing the obvious question, “why are there so many issues where the Legislature extended or increased taxes without a vote of the people?”
The outcomes of these votes will certainly be telling but unfortunately set up the false expectation on whether the tax increase should be “repealed” or “maintained.” Unfortunately, this is a power that we, the voters, don’t have. Although these votes may help reveal the minds of voters, they are too little, too late to influence Olympia. They are cast and then counted after the legislative session when the law is on the books.
In reading the early election results the advisory vote outcomes reveal one thing for sure – just how critical it is to understand the priorities of your lawmakers and how they represent you. The public response to “repeal” many of the new taxes imposed by the legislature is just one example of why the candidate vote is the most important one of all.