Washington State’s Last Chance for Good Government

Feb. 18, 2010

Instead of focusing on economic growth and the creation of jobs, the 2010 Washington state legislative session has largely been a huge disappointment and insulting to business and consumers. That’s mainly because of the bills to increase taxes and violate standards of transparency as disingenuous ploys to balance the budget.

One of the few bright spots: Rodney Tom, a Washington state senator (D-48, Bellevue) understands it’s possible to save money by eliminating an unwarranted state service and going green, too. He’s introduced a bill to eliminate the state printer.

Buried in his bill is this statement: “…printing is not a core state service and would be better handled within the private sector.”

There are other examples of non-core state services, such as the liquor-selling agency that employees nearly 1500 state workers.

Click here for other examples of a bloated state workforce and non-essential services. Per capita, Washington has more employees than California.

A $2.8 billion shortfall is a lot of red ink. The state spending in recent years greatly exceeded the potential revenue pie. There were red flags everywhere. Administrators and lawmakers ignored repeated valid suggestions in order to be good stewards of taxpayer assets. I’ve cited numerous solutions.

Washington’s unemployment rate of 9.5 percent should be a deterrent for tax increases. But it isn’t. Ask the Association of Washington Business (AWB), www.awb.org, about the impact of a proposal to hike unemployment insurance taxes.

Here’s more about the Washington State Legislature’s spending and taxes:

There was a Washington Supreme Court case in recent years over incriminating e-mails in the shell game to circumvent the state’s spending limit.

So, this year we’ve seen a blank, ghost tax bill. That’s right, no text.

We’ve been aghast at the elitist suspension of the transparency safeguards in the Taxpayer Protection Act, Initiative 960, which was passed by voters in 2007.

We’ve seen proposals for sin tax increases as high as 500 percent and a tax on candy, which adversely impacts a heritage employer, Brown and Haley, which has been struggling.

There’s a tax on oil companies that will hurt businesses and consumers. Supporters of the 300 percent increase are either naïve or disingenuous in their claims that oil companies will not pass the tax to purchases at the pump.

And Gov. Chris Gregoire promoted her $605 million in tax increases.

My apologies if there are any omissions. But you get the picture.

The bottom-line: The tax proposals are unwarranted and Gov. Gregoire has an opportunity to exercise a line-item veto of the legislature’s repeal of the two-thirds vote requirement for tax increases.

Language in I-960 includes:

“Our state constitution guarantees to the people the right of referendum. In recent years, however, the legislature has thwarted the people’s constitutional right to referendum by excessive use of the emergency clause . . . The people find that, if they are not allowed to vote on a tax increase, good public policy demands that at least the legislature should be aware of the voters’ view of individual tax increases. An advisory vote of the people at least gives the legislature the views of the voters and gives the voters information about the bill increasing taxes and provides the voters with legislators’ names and contact information and how they voted on the bill. The people have a right to know what’s happening in Olympia.”

In all candor, reporting on the legislature’s excesses is a full-time job – precious time I don’t have in writing business-coaching columns.

Fortunately, the Washington Policy Center (WPC), an authoritative and trusted non-partisan think tank does an excellent job of tracking bills and feeding valuable information to reporters and columnists like me.

“By repealing for two years the non-binding advisory votes, lawmakers that vote for a tax increase will be spared from having their names show up in the voter’s pamphlet next to a description of the tax increases they supported as required by RCW 29A.32.070,” says WPC’s director for government reform, Jason Mercier.

“Short of a change of heart in the Senate, the only thing that can ensure the non-binding tax advisory votes as intended by the voters remains in effect is the governor’s veto pen,” he adds. “The Constitution provides the governor line-item veto authority which means she could approve the two-year repeal of the two-third’s vote requirement while maintaining the non-binding tax advisory vote provision.”

Otherwise, businesses and taxpayers will only have one option – the November elections – which has a precedent in Washington state. That’s the massive voter rejection of incumbents in 1994.

Following widespread protests over massive business-tax increases in 1993, the Washington State Association of County Assessors invited me to advise the 60 assessors on how to get legislative approval to reduce property taxes.  I conducted a special seminar for the assessors. 

It was unprecedented and gratifying when assessors persuaded state lawmakers to reduce property taxes by 4.7 percent in the ensuing 1995 session.

Let’s hope, it won’t get to that point again. You can make a difference by contacting your lawmakers (http://apps.leg.wa.gov/rosters/).

Economic and political freedoms are at-risk.

From the Coach’s Corner, a nonpartisan organization is working behind the scenes and doing something positive – very positive – to insure businesses have a voice:

Enterprise Washington, www.enterprisewashington.org.

I’ve met with the Enterprise Washington folks and I believe they’re nonpartisan, effective and passionate about their work.

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Seattle business consultant Terry Corbell provides high-performance management services and strategies.