By Jeff Youngstrom
In a seasonal ritual that is as much a part of the fall landscape in Washington as blueberry picking and the return of Husky and Cougar football — but much less beneficial and entertaining for the people of this state — Tim Eyman is back with yet another ill-considered ballot initiative.
It’s an annual tradition that dates back to 1997. This year he’s offering up I-1053, an initiative that would require a two-thirds vote in the Washington state legislature to close tax loopholes or raise new revenue.
Mr. Eyman would like you to think that the campaign for I-1053 is a grassroots movement aimed at reining in government spending in order to protect the wallets of families and small businesses struggling to get by in tough economic times.
But citizen’s movements are built on armies of volunteers and small contributions from individuals. In contrast, the campaign for I-1053 relied on an army of hired mercenaries to collect signatures to get on the November ballot and is funded mostly through large donations by major out-of-state corporations.
Far from being a crusade to defend the average citizens against big government, I-1053 is actually designed to serve two very specific goals that have nothing to do with the public good.
The first is to protect narrow corporate special interests. Among I-1053’s chief backers is BP, which has kicked in $65,000 so far. So has Tesoro. ConocoPhillips, and Shell have each ponied up $50,000. While not all of Mr. Eyman’s financial support comes from big oil (major banks including Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and US Bank have combined to provide a total of $40,000), the obvious question is why are some of the world’s largest oil companies spending so much money to back an anti-tax initiative in our state?
The answer is because last year the state legislature nearly passed a bill to increase Washington’s Hazardous Substances Tax, which was approved by state voters in 1988. That would have upped the amount that oil companies operating refineries in Washington pay for oil-spill prevention and the cleanup of oil-polluted storm water. Not surprisingly, the companies that would be affected include BP, Tesoro, ConocoPhillips and Shell.
Mr. Eyman’s second goal in pushing I-1053 is to tie the hands of elected officials as they try to work together to deal with the fallout from a very difficult economic environment and a bleak state revenue forecast.
Deeply undemocratic and almost certainly unconstitutional, I-1053 would enable a group of just 17 state senators who share Mr. Eyman’s disdain for government to block sensible, bipartisan efforts to tackle the tough issues our state faces, including how to fund education for our children, support the creation of new jobs and ensure that we continue to protect our environment.
California’s disastrous experiment with super-majority rule makes clear just how damaging it is to concentrate decision-making power over fiscal matters in the hands of one-third of state legislators. Today, that state is virtually ungovernable. Saddled with massive debt, its education system is failing, its infrastructure is crumbling, and it continues to slash essential public services.
In 1889, Washington State adopted a constitution that was based on the powerful idea that a simple majority of the leaders elected by a simple majority of voters should pass the laws under which we live. I-1053 would sacrifice this fundamental principle of democracy in favor of narrow self interest and a blind ideological opposition to taxes of any kind.
Hopefully, Washington state voters will recognize that only Tim Eyman and a handful of out-of-state oil companies stand to gain by the passage of I-1053 and they’ll reject it as soundly at the polls as they did I-1033 and I-985, his previous two initiatives.
Jeff Youngstrom is a long-time resident of Issaquah and a trustee of the Sightline Institute.