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Originally published October 28, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified October 28, 2007 at 2:01 AM

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I-960 wake-up needed

Initiative 960 deserves the people's support. In this decade, the Legislature has raised statewide taxes on cigarettes, liquor, inheritances...

Initiative 960 deserves the people's support. In this decade, the Legislature has raised statewide taxes on cigarettes, liquor, inheritances and gasoline. Initiative 960 makes further tax increases a bit more difficult, but still allows them in three ways:

First, by a 50-percent-plus vote of the Senate and House, and then of the people;

Second, by a two-thirds vote of the Senate and House, with the people retaining their constitutional right to collect signatures and challenge the tax increase in a referendum; and,

Third, by a two-thirds vote of the Senate and House, plus the declaration of public emergency, which takes away the people's right of referendum. At the next general election, there would be a nonbinding advisory ballot.

That is a kind of embarrassment vote. It says, in effect, "Here is a tax increase your legislators passed by declaring a public emergency, so that you can't run a referendum against it, and here are the names of the legislators who voted for it." Such "emergencies" have spread like slugs in a garden, and though Initiative 960 would not stop them, it would paste legislators' names on them at the delicate moment of re-election.

This is not a great solution, but it's about all the people can do by ballot. We think it would have a wake-up effect on legislators.

Opponents say Initiative 960 would bind the hands of lawmakers too much. We don't think it does. The first two tax-raising methods are already in state law, and the third adds only the embarrassment vote, which is hardly a ball and chain. And, there is another way: After two years, any initiative may be changed by a simple majority of the Senate and House.

This is the difference between I-960 and SJR 8206 (described below). That measure amends the state constitution. It is a concrete dam. I-960 is an earthen dam, guaranteed for two years only. It will continue to work only if legislators don't erode it.

I-960 does some other things. It subjects increases in state fees to a simple majority vote of the Senate and House, rather than agency fiat. It requires that state calculate the 10-year cost of proposed tax and fee increases, and alert the public whenever a tax bill moves toward passage.

We like both of these things, and we think the people will like them, too.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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