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Election 2010


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Originally published Tuesday, October 26, 2010 at 10:07 PM

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The Truth Needle | The Seattle Times has launched a new feature to help voters discern fact from fiction between now and the November election. The Truth Needle will examine the claims of candidates and campaigns in the top races and decide whether they are true or false.

Truth Needle | Mostly false: claim that extending tax requires public vote

The statement in a commercial for a yes vote on Initiative 1098 that the measure "cannot be changed without a vote of the people" is mostly false because state law allows the Legislature to make changes to initiatives, with certain restrictions. The commercial fails to acknowledge the Legislature's authority.

About Initiative 1098

I-1098 WOULD:

Create a tax rate of 5 percent on annual taxable earnings exceeding $200,000 for individuals and $400,000 for couples, and a 9 percent tax rate on earnings of more than $500,000 for individuals and $1 million for couples.

Cut the state portion of everybody's property taxes by 20 percent, which in King County would amount to about a 4 percent reduction in annual property-tax bills.

Exempt an additional 118,000 businesses from the B&O tax on gross receipts by increasing the state credit to $4,800.

Bring in more than $2 billion annually for education and health care by 2013, according to state estimates.

The claim:

A TV commercial from proponents of the income-tax initiative, I-1098, states the proposed law "cannot be changed without a vote of the people."

What we found:

This claim, and a similar one in a mailer by the yes campaign, address a fundamental issue in the debate: whether the initiative on the Nov. 2 ballot — creating a state income tax on high-wage earners — could be extended to everyone by the state Legislature.

In this commercial, which features clips of worried-looking students, the viewer is warned, "How do you tell a child you're going to let them down, with fewer teachers in our schools, overcrowded classrooms, skyrocketing college-tuition costs?" The ad then goes on to tout I-1098 as a funding source for education and health care.

The statement that I-1098 "cannot be changed without a vote of the people" is mostly false because state law allows the Legislature to make changes to initiatives, with certain restrictions. The commercial fails to acknowledge the Legislature's authority.

The text of the initiative says, "The excise tax rates ... of this act may not be increased for any income level without a majority vote of the legislature and submission of the changes to the people for approval."

But the state constitution says state lawmakers, with a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate, can change an initiative in the first two years after it is approved by voters. So it's legal, but just about politically impossible.

After two years, however, lawmakers could change the initiative as they saw fit with a simple majority vote. That's because an initiative is no different from any other law, which can be changed by a majority vote no matter what it says, said Dave Ammons, spokesman for the Washington Secretary of State's Office.

A majority vote is easier to achieve, but on the issue of taxes still politically charged.

The Yes on 1098 campaign said the ad is accurate because the initiative says any change requires a public vote.

If lawmakers in the future attempted to change the law, prominent supporters "have publicly pledged that we will make sure it goes to a vote of the people," said Sandeep Kaushik, a spokesman for the campaign.

He pointed out that several wealthy backers of the initiative, including William H. Gates Sr. and Nicolas "Nick" Hanauer, a partner at venture-capital firm Second Avenue Partners, pledged in a recent newspaper ad that if "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."

Andrew Garber: 360-236-8266 or agarber@seattletimes.com

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