Holmquist joins Eyman on initiative over tax rule

By Michelle Dupler, Herald staff writerJanuary 12, 2010 

Two hours before the Legislature officially started work Monday, Tim Eyman took a pre-emptive strike against what is expected to be an early action by majority Democrats to suspend a rule requiring a two-thirds majority to raise taxes.

Eyman and more than one dozen others -- including Sen. Janea Holmquist, R-Moses Lake -- submitted a new initiative to Secretary of State Sam Reed's office that would reinstate the two-thirds majority requirement of Initiative 960, passed by voters in 2007.

Democrats have said they will suspend or modify Initiative 960 to allow options to bridge an estimated $2.6 billion or more shortfall in the 2009-11 supplemental budget.

Although Gov. Chris Gregoire proposed a budget in December that slashed programs without raising taxes, she and Democratic leaders in the Legislature have said they can't live with the kind of sweeping cuts Gregoire suggested.

Democrats are looking at ways to close tax loopholes and make government more efficient, but a tax package also seems likely.

While Democrats hold a majority in both houses of the Legislature, the party doesn't hold enough seats to guarantee two-thirds support for tax measures if Republicans close ranks and refuse to vote yes. That means the Democrats would have to amend I-960 to raise or create taxes.

Eyman, who brought I-960 to voters in 2007, said his latest initiative is intended to remind lawmakers that Washington voters have said more than once that they want restraints on the Legislature's ability to raise taxes.

Prior to I-960, voters approved Initiative 601 in 1993 limiting the growth of government revenues to inflation plus population growth.

"We are asking a simple question: 'Should it be tougher to raise taxes or easier to raise taxes?' " Eyman said.

The initiative wouldn't stop lawmakers from suspending the two-thirds requirement of I-960 during the 2010 session because the new initiative couldn't go on the ballot until November and wouldn't be effective until 2011, but Holmquist vowed to introduce a bill to reinstate the requirement.

She described Democrats as having a "ravenous appetite for spending" that must be curbed.

"It is imperative we have this taxpayer protection," Holmquist said. "It's time to teach my colleagues a lesson they should have learned a long time ago."

Eyman's initiative already has sparked opposition. Steve Zemke, co-chairman of the King County Democrats, and Andrew Villeneuve of the Northwest Progressive Institute said Eyman's initiative will mean cuts in necessary government services in tough economic times.

"People are depending on public services more than ever," Villeneuve said. "If those services get destroyed, people are going to have it a lot harder."

Initiative supporters will have to gather 241,153 petition signatures by early July to qualify the measure for the November ballot. Eyman said he plans to start gathering signatures in February.

w Michelle Dupler: 360-753-0862; mdupler@tricityherald.com

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