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February 3, 2010 at 5:50 PM

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Senate Democrats propose bill to make it easier to raise taxes

Posted by Andrew Garber

Senate Democrats have introduced a measure, Senate Bill 6843, that would let the Legislature increase taxes with a simple majority vote.

The bill makes temporary and permanent changes to Initiative 960, a measure sponsored by Tim Eyman and approved by voters in 2007. The initiative reinstated a two-thirds vote requirement to boost taxes.

Senate Bill 6843 suspends the two-thirds requirement until July 2011, which would allow simple majority votes on tax increases next year as well. But it also makes permanent changes, such as stating any future tax increase that goes toward a voter-approved initiative only needs a simple majority vote.

That's a key provision. The Legislature, for example, has slashed several hundred million dollars in funding from the class-size reduction initiative, I-728, during the recession. The proposed change would make it easier for lawmakers to raise taxes for that initiative in the future.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, referred to that provision and others as a "clean-up" of I-960.

Brown said the bill will be heard in committee on Thursday and is expected to get a floor vote in the Senate next week.

I-960, Brown said "just puts an unfair limitation on the process in a situation where we have a short time to solve a big problem and we want to be able to have a simple majority be able to respond quickly and effectively."

Brown said there's also talk about simply suspending I-960 and not making any permanent changes. It's not clear yet which approach the Senate will take, she said.

Republicans blasted the move. "I am incredulous that Democrats are setting the stage for raising taxes in this economy," Senate Republican Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, said in a statement. "People are terrified right now. Everybody knows someone who's lost a job. Working people and employers are just trying to survive in this economy. They should not be asked to bail out poor state spending decisions through higher taxes."

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