What does the Kingdome and Tax Advisory Votes have in common? Politicians said the people’s vote on the Kingdome was a “threat to the public health and safety.” That action — validated by a split state supreme court — opened up Pandora’s Box and led to the elimination of the people’s constitutionally guaranteed right to referendum. As a result, the Legislature now regularly slaps an “emergency clause” on any bill that is controversial (which always includes new taxes and tax increases). The people’s response: Tax Advisory Votes. Here’s the history.
Wed, April 13, 2023
To: Our thousands of supporters throughout the state (cc’d to the media, house & senate members, and Governor, and other candidates for office)
From: Tim Eyman, Fighting for Taxpayers for 26 years
For decades, we had the Kingdome in Seattle for sporting events and concerts etc.
Politicians voted to tear it down and replace it.
There was a citizen referendum to let the voters decide that (I wasn’t the leader of that effort but I collected 100 signatures for it one afternoon at Green Lake).
The voters voted.
The people said “No, we don’t want that.”
In response, politicians in Olympia called a special session and voted to override the voters’ decision.
Their legislation said if they didn’t do this, it was “a threat to the public health and safety.”
It was beyond absurd.
The citizens filed a lawsuit.
That lawsuit pointed out to the state supreme court: “If you let them get away with this — that the failure to build a sports stadium was a ‘threat to the public health and safety’ — then the Legislature will be able to designate any bill an emergency.”
Here’s how it works: any law that the Legislature declares “an emergency” is exempt from a citizen referendum (which gives voters 90 days to get enough signatures to put the question to the voters the following November: do you agree or disagree with the Legislature’s decision? If voters disagree, the law is repealed. It’s essentially a voter veto opportunity AND THIS RIGHT TO REFERENDUM IS GUARANTEED IN OUR STATE CONSTITUTION).
After all the briefs were filed and oral arguments were presented, there were a lot of powerful people in smoke filled rooms who got the state supreme court to rule 6-3 (state supreme court justice Richard Sanders wrote the dissent) that “Who are we, the judicial branch, to second guess what the legislature determines is an emergency? If the Legislature thinks that the failure to build a sports stadium is a threat to the public health and safety, we will not question their decision.”
That ridiculous ruling opened up Pandora’s Box.
As the years went by, the Legislature started slapping an “emergency clause” on more and more bills — controversial bills — to make them “referendum proof.”
But in 2002, the Legislature created a new tax on businesses’ unemployment insurance. Significantly, their billdid notinclude an emergency clause.
So the citizens filed a referendum (thank you Tom McCabe who was BIAW President back then), worked hard for 90 days getting the necessary voter signatures, and qualified it for a public vote.
And after a vigorous multi-month debate, the voters voted on Referendum 53 and decided to repeal the tax.
That referendum was challenged in court, but a unanimous state Supreme Court sided with the people, upholding the voters’ veto of the Legislature’s tax increase.
It was a perfect example of the right to referendum guaranteed in our state Constitution being utilized. The people exercised their rights and were victorious.
But the Legislature didn’t like that outcome, not one bit.
Politicians said to themselves,“What the heck are we doing letting the unwashed masses second-guess our taxing decisions? We’ve gotta stop this from ever happening again.”
So the Legislature set out to essentially repeal the people’s constitutionally guaranteed referendum power.
And frankly, they succeeded.
R-53 in 2002 was the last referendum on taxes our state has ever had.
Since then, for 20 years, the Legislature has raised taxes numerous times, and not oncehas there been a referendum like R-53 to give the people the chance to vote on it.
How’d they do it?
Since 2003, the Legislature regularly and consistently slapped emergency clauses on tax bills, making them referendum-proof. So even though the voters have a constitutional right to referendum (to “voter veto” any bill passed by the Legislature), the Legislature took that constitutional right away from us by abusing / misusing / overusing the emergency clause.
That abuse of power is a gross injustice that demanded a response.
So in 2007, when drafting Initiative 960 (whose central policy was the renewal of the 2/3 legislative vote requirement for tax increases that was originally included in 1993’s Initiative 601), we included a new policy called a Tax Advisory Vote.
It did not allow the public to veto a tax increase as a referendum does (the court ruled we couldn’t do that), but an advisory vote at least put each blocked tax increase on the ballot for voters to vote on. And in the voters pamphlet, the voters got to learn which taxes were raised, how much they were going to cost, and listed how each legislator voted on each tax increase.
I often referred to it as “Tax Increase Report Card”.
So under this new policy, whenever the Legislature raised taxes and blocked the people from doing a referendum by declaring an emergency, there was a Tax Advisory Vote.
In 2007, our Initiative 960 qualified.
Opponents filed a lawsuit to block the people from voting on it, but the court rejected that.
Voters overwhelmingly passed our initiative.
Opponents filed a lawsuit against itbut a unanimous state supreme court rejected that, ruling that the 2/3 policy was a political decision, not a legal one.
In 2008 and 2009, there wasn’t a single tax increase — they couldn’t get 2/3 of the Legislature to pass any.
In 2010, the Legislature’s first bill they passed was a suspension of the policies in Initiative 960 (the 2/3 and the Tax Advisory Votes).
On behalf of the voters of the state of Washington, I went to the official bill signing to express my displeasure with what they had done.
Right after Democrat Governor Chris Gregoire signed that suspension of Initiative 960 into law, we sponsored Initiative 1053 that renewed the 2/3 legislative vote requirement and the Tax Advisory Vote Requirement.
Our initiative deterred the 2010 Legislature from going bonkers (still, without the 2/3 and without the Tax Advisory Vote requirement, they raised taxes $670 million — not good, but still pretty restrained compared to recent Democrat dominated legislative sessions).
The voters LOVED OUR “TOUGHER TO RAISE TAXES INITIATIVE (Initiative 1053)!
Not only did it qualify, it passed with nearly 2/3 voter approval.
In 2011, there wasn’t a single tax increase.
In 2012, anticipating that the Democrats would again suspend the initiative, we proactively sponsored Initiative 1185 that renewed the 2/3 legislative vote requirement and renewed the Tax Advisory Vote requirement.
And the voters LOVED OUR INITIATIVE AGAIN (Initiative 1185)!
Our initiative got more votes than any initiative in state history.
It got more votes than Inslee got. It got more votes than Obama got.
It passed overwhelmingly in every county, including King County (55%)!
For 20 years, the court stayed out of this political tug-of-war, allowing the people to pass it, dismissing lawsuits against it, letting it stay in effect for a period of time, and then allowing the Legislature to suspend it for a period of time. As they ruled in 2008 (and also in 1994), it was a political decision, not a legal decision.
But now we had the upper hand — we showed them that we were willing to pass this initiative every two years and never allow it to be undone.
And there was also a huge shift to the left on the state supreme court (no more Justice Richard Sanders or Justice Jim Johnson).
So in early 2013, despite Initiative 1185 passing by such a huge margin, the state supreme court violated 20 years of their own legal precedents the people were not allowed to require a 2/3 legislative vote requirement to higher taxes.
And with Inslee coming into office, that’s when Olympia really went bonkers raising taxes and went completely crazy designating all their tax increases as “emergencies” (preventing a citizen referendum).
So that’s when Tax Advisory Votes started popping up on the ballot.
In the past 10 years, Olympia has raised taxes EVERY SINGLE LEGISLATIVE SESSION. They imposed 41 tax increases that’ll cost taxpayers $62.3 billion.
And we know EXACTLY how voters feel about each tax increase because they voted on each one with a Tax Advisory Vote (see above)
The motivation behind Tax Advisory Votes was not to have Tax Advisory Votes — they were created to get the Legislature to stop raising taxes so much — to restrain themselves.
But at least if they couldn’t restrain themselves, then they should at least stop abusing and overusing emergency clauses on tax bills and allow the voters the opportunity to decide.
Instead, they started shooting the messenger.
They started asking: “Why are we ‘wasting time’ with Tax Advisory Votes if we’re never going to listen to what the voters are telling us anyway?”
If they didn’t raise taxes, there wouldn’t be any Tax Advisory Votes.
If they didn’t declare them all emergencies, there wouldn’t be any Tax Advisory Votes.
There were a lot of pages in the voters pamphlet listing all the taxes they raised and how much they cost and how legislators voted on them because of their INSATIABLE TAX APPETITE.
Despite record surpluses from existing taxes and fees, they haven’t made it through a single legislative session without raising taxes (see above).
When the 2/3 was in effect (in 2008, 2009, and 2011), not a single tax increase was imposed.
But without it, they’ve gone on a rampage raising taxes.
And they were furious that the voters were being informed of that fact because the voters pamphlet was listing how legislators voted on each one (and was easily accessible to all voters in the printed voters pamphlet and on the Secretary of State’s website).
Finally, let me offer a belated defense of the wording of the short description for a Tax Advisory Vote — it is 100% accurate:
“The legislature imposed, without a vote of the people, …”
Absolutely correct. That’s exactly what happened that caused a Tax Advisory Vote.
” … [identification of tax and description of increase] …”
The cost of the tax increase is determined by the Governor’s budget office.
“… for government spending.”
Once the money starts flowing in from a tax increase, the Legislature is within its power (and 99% of the time does) divert the money to whatever pet project or programs they want.
Famously/infamously, the voters passed a tobacco tax increase to fund certain government programs. But within a couple of months, the Legislature declared “an emergency” and they and Democrat Governor Gary Locke diverted that money toward other things.
So the wording in a Tax Advisory Vote (” … for government spending.”) is the only thing the voter knows for sure will happen to the money from a tax increase.
This isn’t “loaded” language — its’ wording reflects exactly how tax increases and Olympia works.
But not anymore.
More than enough “we-dont-care-what-voters-think” Democrats were elected to the House and Senate to repeal the People’s Right to Vote on Tax Increases last Friday (read about it here).
So we don’t have the power of referendum anymore (even though it’s guaranteed in our state Constitution) and we don’t have the power of a Tax Advisory Vote anymore (because of the Democrats’ Senate Bill 5082 and Inslee’s inevitable signature).
The only power left for the people is that of a citizen initiative.
We’ve qualified 17 statewide initiatives for a public vote.
And while other initiative campaigns spent (on average) $1.2 million to qualify for the ballot, our average amount spent was $672,000. So we get our initiatives on the ballot for nearly half what others spend.
Our initiatives have provided taxpayers with over $54 billion in direct savings.
And over the past two decades, our initiatives have saved taxpayers BILLIONS MORE by deterring Olympia from raising taxes even more than they did (especially when the economy tanked in 2008 — during those crucial years, our initiatives stopped all tax increases!).
Is it any wonder the AG is trying so hard to impose a lifetime ban on all my future political activity?
I urge you to help me survive this political persecution by donating to my legal defense fund so that Richard can get the AG’s ridiculously unconstitutional ruling overturned: Mail your check to: Tim Eyman Legal Defense Fund, 17404 Meridian E #F PMB 176, Puyallup, WA, 98375 Or donate online: ByGiveSendGo (credit/debit card) ByPaypal ByPayPal (credit/debit card)
And thank you.
With your help, I will keep fighting for the people across our nation with initiatives, lawsuits, lobbying, and helping elect more freedom-loving elected officials.