Election 2012: More Budget Gridlock

A couple items on this ballot involve taxes and debts. While I would not normally oppose Resolution 8221 to reduce the amount of debt Washington holds, it is on the ballot with Initiative 1185 which is yet another measure to require a super majority to raise state revenues. The idea of further restricting the state’s ability to raise money at the same time as we reduce its ability to hold debt strikes me as absurd.

The proposed laws

The voters of Washington have repeatedly approved 2/3 majority requirements for tax increases. Due to the way the state initiative process works, the legislature can, by a simple majority, remove the previously passed 2/3 majority requirement in 2013 (it was passed in 2010 and the legislature cannot amend it for two years). Initiative 1185 would enforce that 2/3 majority for at least another two years. It also redefines what “raises taxes” means to include “any action or combination of actions by the state legislature that increases state tax revenue deposited in any fund, budget, or account, regardless of whether the revenues are deposited into the general fund.” This clause intends to restrict the legislature’s ability to use alternate revenue-raising strategies such as reducing tax deductions.

The debt limit resolution is fairly complicated in the particulars, but overall it lowers the percentage of state revenues that can be used to service debt from 9% down to 8.5% in 2014 and eventually down to 8% in 2034. It also changes the manner in which total state revenues are calculated to include property taxes (the funds are devoted solely to education) and to require an averaging over the previous six years instead of only three.

Vote no

I oppose super majority requirements to raise taxes, at least in the absence of super majority requirements to do pass other legislation. It allows minorities to block useful revenue improvements while allowing a simple majority to pass laws that may affect how much money the state needs to spend. In Washington the super majority requirement is particularly pernicious. Since we don’t have an income tax, the state is much more heavily dependent on sales tax revenue which more dramatically changes during economic downturns — and for more than a decade Washington has been showing an overall decline entirely unrelated to recessions. Thus even in the absence of actual population-adjusted spending increases, the state has been short on revenue for several years running. This has forced repeated budget cuts.

The debt limit resolution was actually planned and passed by the state legislature in a bipartisan fashion. However, given the political situation where raising tax revenues to solve our budget problems is nearly entirely impossible, I view changes to the debt limit with suspicion. While in theory it seems like a good idea to devote less revenue to debt service and one percent isn’t all that much, at this time it seems like the near-term half percent change might entirely restrict the ability of the legislature to take out infrastructure loans for the next few years. Moreover, the change to use a six year average revenues to determine the maximum percentage strikes me as way to extend the impact of a recession by limiting the state’s ability to borrow for several years after a recession ends. But, in the end, I mostly oppose this resolution because until our legislators figure out how to reasonably pay for services the voters want, juggling rules about debt isn’t going to do us any good.

Vote no on Tim Eyman’s odious super majority law, I-1185, at the least. It’s not going to save your wallet. It’s just going to slowly destroy the services we expect our government to provide like education, police and health services.

This post is part of series on the 2012 election, focused on the state of Washington. I highly recommend having a look at the state’s main voter guide before casting your ballot.