Attempts to abolish tax advisory votes in WA draws resistance

A Washington House committee has scheduled a vote to approve a bill that would eliminate statewide advisory votes on legislative measures that increase taxes.

In 2007, Washington voters approved Initiative 960, which requires any tax increase approved by lawmakers, but not by voters, to be subject to a non-binding public advisory vote.

Twenty-two House Democrats, including Seattle’s Amy Walen, seek to eliminate those votes.

“Advisory votes are not binding on the legislature. They are confusing, I think, to voters. They don’t provide full information or context,” said Walen at a hearing of the House State Government and Tribal Relations Committee last week.

One of the top election officials in Washington, Julie Wise of King County, agreed.

“Many of our voters who call to ask about advisory votes express their frustration that these advisory votes appear on their ballot, particularly right at the top of the ballot. In 2020, voters had to wade past four non-binding advisory measures before they even got to vote for the president of the United States,” she said.

Democrats in charge of that House committee have scheduled a vote on the bill with the intention of sending it to the full House for debate. There it will run into resistance from Spokane Republican Mike Volz, who believes public advisory votes on tax increases should be more than advisory.

“This advisory vote was initially approved by the people and to have, at the end of the day, less than 100 people approve taking it away from the people, to me, is problematic,” he said. “So, should theirs go forward, someone on our side will offer up an amendment that the people should vote on removing the advisory vote.”

The goal, he says, is to return the decision-making on tax increases back to the people. If they say no on the advisory measures, the bills would return to the legislature for further consideration. He says lawmakers would then have the chance to re-debate measures and vote on them again, if they choose. If they approve tax measures for a second time, he says, they would then become law.

Volz has proposed a constitutional amendment to make the advisory votes a binding public vote on tax increases. He admits it’s a long shot, but hopes to start a political discussion about it.

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