Democrats too quick to scuttle anti-tax initiative

Despite the outrage expressed by Republican legislators, no one was actuallysurprised to see their Democratic colleagues gutting Initiative 960 thisweek.

Long before the legislative session started in January, the majority partyhad telegraphed its intent to suspend the part of the initiative thatrequires a two-thirds majority of the Legislature to raise taxes.

It looks like the Democrats will go even further, suspending the entireinitiative, including the public reporting provisions.

That adds insult to injury, but the people's will was thwarted as soon asthe Democratic leadership decided not to bother even paying lip service toI-960.

We recommended voters reject this particular anti-tax package frominitiative king Tim Eyman when it was on the ballot two years ago.

The intent - to make it tougher for lawmakers to raise taxes and ensure thatthey're more accountable when they do - was laudable.

We just didn't think the initiative was a good vehicle for accomplishingthose goals. The restrictions placed on state government's ability to alterfees and taxes are overly broad.

But the public has been clear about its desire to restrain the Legislature'sability to raise revenues. Voters have approved the two-thirds requirementthree times since 1993, and it's a cinch they'll do it again in response tothe Democrats' actions this week.

A two-thirds vote in the Legislature isn't the only means of increasingstate revenues allowed under I-960. Raises in taxes can also be approved bya vote of the people.

Both are high hurdles, but that's the way the public wants it.

Either way - attracting enough bipartisan support in the Legislature for atwo-thirds vote or getting tax-weary voters to approve an increase -requires Democrats to make a convincing case.

That would be difficult, of course, but not impossible.

Senate Republican Leader Mike Hewitt told us before the session that cutsalone might not make up for the $2.6 billion deficit, and he wasn't rulingout support for increased revenues to balance the budget.

And as recently as Tuesday, voters in school districts across the stateproved that they're willing to support school tax levies - even in thesetough times - if the need is clear.

But broad support depends first on putting every potential cost-savingmeasure on the table and reducing state spending as much as possible.Then lawmakers would still need to demonstrate that any additional revenueswould pay for programs worthy of the sacrifices required from the taxpayers.By tossing out I-960, Democrats don't have to take either step. Why bother?They already have the votes to push whatever they want through theLegislature.

It's the path of least resistance, but the result isn't likely to move thestate's recurring budget problems any closer to a long-term fix. Any budgetcapable of garnering broad support would surely do a better job of balancingconflicting interests.

To Democrats, suspending I-960 may look like dodging a bullet. From here, itlooks like missed opportunity.