Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Suit To Challenge Local Anti-Tax Initiative

A couple of years back an initiative was passed in the state of Washington that limited our state legislature’s ability to raising taxes. Initiative 1053’s language requires that there be a “super-majority” in order to pass any tax increases.

It seems there are some legislators who just don’t get it when it comes to taxation. Several democrat legislators, along with the League of Education Voters are filing suit in Superior Court to get this initiative overturned.

To support their suit the plaintiffs are cherry-picking the state constitution. According to the State Constitution “No bill shall become law unless on its final passage the vote be taken by yeas and nays…and a majority of members ge elected to each house be recorded thereon as voting in its favor.”

However, Article II, Section 1 and Amendment 7 are fairly clear in that the initiative process takes precedence over legislative actions and the legislature is bound by any initiative passed that has any impact over their actions. I am not a lawyer, so I don’t always understand the legal mumbo-jumbo, but it seems fairly clear to me that this suit doesn’t have a leg to stand on.

Take a look at who is filing this suit. It is all democrats or organizations that support democrat causes (more taxes). Since I can’t find any evidence that contradicts, I am going to assume that the League of Education Voters has pretty much supported democrats across the board. There might be instances otherwise, but I cannot find them.

Even people in a liberal state like Washington recognize that there has to be limits on how our “representatives” collect and spend our money. The people spoke loud and clear when this initiative was overwhelmingly approved with a 64% “yes” vote.

Oddly enough, even though I do support Initiative 1053, I am on the fence when it comes to the whole initiative process. We live in a representative democracy, more commonly referred to as a Republic. This has been done in order to prevent the chaos of pure democracy. Most states have chosen to emulate the national government in the sense that they too govern in a representative manner. Some states like Washington and Oregon have backtracked somewhat from this republic form of government with the initiative process inserted into their state constitutions. The initiative process allows for a “majority rules” kind of actions which is what the framers of the US Constitution wanted to avoid.

On the plus side of the initiative process is it acts as another check and balance on the government. If the people do not support actions of the legislature, they have the ability to overturn (some say hinder) legislative actions. As I have stated several times in the past, Washington is a liberal state where the population isn’t really fond of over taxation. They have proven this time and time again over the years. The voters have prevented the legislature from imposing higher taxes with the 2/3’s legislative requirement to raise taxes.

But at what point does an initiative hinder the ability of those chosen (voted in) to represent us? The state of Washington faced a $5 billion budget shortfall this past session. Initially, the avenue attempted to file the gap was a combination of higher taxes and some budget cuts. But initiative 1053 forced the legislature to make cuts only because they could not muster the 2/3’s needed to raise taxes. But was it a good thing that taxes were not raised? The state had to slash nearly every program under their purview. This included health care for the poor as well as cuts to education. User fees were raised across the board. State employee salaries were cut by 3% over the next couple of years.

This time around, I do think these things were necessary. Usage requirements for the state health care system were tightened. People who use the programs have to jump through more hoops to gain access to the state health care system, but it should be that way. If you are on the taxpayer dime, it shouldn’t be a “no questions asked” kind of access.

State employee salaries needed to be more in line with the private sector. The benefits allotted to employees are far and away better than those who work in the private sector. The retirement plan is generous, to say the least. The state contributes over 5% of the employee’s salary (not deducted from) to a retirement fund. Employees are not required to contribute anything. Health care is relatively cheap. $112.00 a month gives an entire family a robust health care plan. And there is no charge for dental or vision care. So maybe a 3% cut in salary was necessary for employees who earn an average of $53,000.00 a year.

In a way, the initiative forced the government of Washington State to act more responsibly. Legislators had to find the guts to make the necessary tough calls in order to balance the budget. And these calls were tough, especially for democrats, who have a spend now, get the funds later mentality.

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