Perennial initiative sponsor Tim Eyman caught up with one of the most powerful people in Olympia recently, liberal Seattle Democrat and Speaker of the House Frank Chopp. The conversation took place the Speaker as hurried along a hallway in the Cherberg House Office Building.
As Chopp ducked into a waiting elevator, Eyman asked him a simple question, “Won’t you let there be a vote on the floor this session on the 2/3 constitutional amendment?”
As the doors closed, Chopp’s answer was as final as it was brief: “No, I won’t.” Their full exchange is at VotersWantMoreChoices.com.
Chopp’s curt answer was motivated by political fear. He and other Democrats are afraid of allowing a floor vote on a constitutional amendment to require a 2/3 vote in the legislature to raise taxes because they know the idea is popular and would probably pass. That in turn would put a serious crimp in Democrats plans to raise existing taxes or enact an income tax.
Voters already passed the 2/3 limit on raising taxes five times. Four times Democrats used their power in the legislature to repeal it, with the support of Democrat governors. The fifth time, in 2012, Democrats sued voters, with the result that the state Supreme Court overturned the law. The court said the people could only impose a 2/3 limit on their elected representatives by amending the state constitution, and that is exactly what Eyman proposes and what Speaker Chopp is blocking.
Tax limitation is popular. It has already been adopted locally in Pierce County and in the cities of Yakima and Spokane. Democrats are afraid the idea will spread to other cities, or be added to the state constitution. That would overturn their long-term plan to kill voter-approved tax limitation. They are right to be worried. In 2012 the 2/3 tax limitation ballot measure was the biggest voter-getter in the state – garnering more support than President Obama or Governor Inslee.
Eyman has an alternative strategy, putting a ballot measure before voters in 2014, but at least now we know the Democratic leader’s position on allowing a vote on popular tax limitation is a firm, “No, I won’t.”