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Initiative season opens with an Eyman blockbuster ?>

Initiative season opens with an Eyman blockbuster


Washington’s initiative season is open, and much of the early attention is on an attempt by initiative activist Tim Eyman to use a heavy hammer to persuade lawmakers to submit a constitutional amendment to require a two-thirds supermajority for all taxes passed in Olympia.

The hammer? If his Initiative 1325 qualifies for the ballot and passes this fall, it would impose an annual $1 billion cut in the state sales tax if legislators refuse to put the constitutional amendment on the ballot for public vote in 2015.  Eyman told reporters at the Secretary of State’s Office on Monday that “It’s hardball — a billion reasons to let people vote on this. It’s a strong financial incentive.”

Voters have approved the supermajority requirement as part of five previous initiatives. Legislators sometimes suspended the requirement and other times did not try to raise taxes.  Last year, the state Supreme Court said the supermajority requirement violates the state constitution, which says a bill (or tax) becomes law if it gets a majority vote in both chambers and the governor’s signature.

The only way for Eyman to get the supermajority requirement would be to amend the state constitution — something that cannot be done by initiative. The Legislature must originate any amendment. Passage takes two-thirds of both houses, plus a majority vote at the next general election.

Eyman said polling continues to show broad public support for the concept of the supermajority requirement and even stronger support for the idea of letting people vote on a constitutional amendment.  Democrats have resisted, particularly since the state Supreme Court has ordered the Legislature to boost state aid to education by billions.  Lawmakers added roughly $1 billion in the current budget.

It takes 246,372 valid voter signatures to qualify an initiative to the ballot — and more than 320,000 are suggested to cover invalid and duplicate signatures. Deadline is July 3.

Eyman also filed initiatives mandating $30 car tabs and dealing with red light traffic cams, but said he will put his energy into the tax measure.

Gregoire unveils $34b budget & tax plan ?>

Gregoire unveils $34b budget & tax plan

20120731b_blogGov. Chris Gregoire, in one of her last major acts as governor, has unveiled a $34 billion, two-year budget for state government, along with a tax package devoted largely to upgrading the K-12 budget.

The Democratic governor, leaving office in January after serving eight years, laid out spending priorities for every sector of state government, including schools and colleges, parks, social and health services, prisons, the courts and Legislature, Puget Sound cleanup, and the departments of government.  She also released transportation and construction budgets.

Easily the most controversial aspect of her budget rollout was her prescription of a billion-dollar revenue package, including a wholesale fuel tax and extension of a business tax on selected professional services, a hospital tax and a junk food tax. Reaction from Republican budgetwriters was mostly of the “dead on arrival” variety.

Democratic Gov.-elect Jay Inslee‘s office put out a noncommittal statement. He campaigned against new taxes this year.

The Gregoire budget would continue to squeeze some programs, including the State Library and the Heritage Center account, but would beef up other areas, including employee salaries, Puget Sound cleanup, parks and, most significantly, education. The Legislature and future governors are on notice from the state Supreme Court that the state has not been meeting the state Constitution’s requirement of ample funding of schools.

While it is a lame duck’s budget, it is nonetheless influential, setting the basic parameters of the budget-and-tax deliberations that await when lawmakers convene Jan. 14. Inslee is inaugurated on Jan. 16, and is not expected to build a ground-up budget proposal of his own. If history is a guide, he will present an amended version of Gregoire’s budget, and will have to deal with whether to include new revenue, such as a ballot referendum for education and/or for transportation.

Both houses of the Legislature will offer their own drafts. The House has a Democratic majority. The Senate has a slim Democratic majority of elected senators, but two of their fiscal conservatives, Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon, have said they will cross the aisle to form a coalition with the 23 Republicans, seizing control of the upper chamber. Tom would be the new majority leader and Sheldon the president pro tempore.  Democrats on Monday rejected a call for a certain amount of power-sharing and counter-proposed a straight sharing of all leadership and committee posts.