I-695: Is The Sky Really Falling? … Or Big Business, Big Labor, Chicken Little

As a former elected official, I would suggest anything that makes a majority of the politicians scream bloody murder is probably a good thing. I-695 is fairly simple. It would reduce the tax we all pay for our car tabs to $30. Additionally, it would require a vote of the people any time state or local politicians want to raise taxes or fees. Hence the screaming.

To hear it told in newspapers, you’d think that the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax provides funds for nearly all local and state government operations. The “No on I-695” campaign is trying to scare you into believing that radical cuts will have to be made in virtually every program if your car tabs are reduced to $30. The political establishment is deathly afraid of placing tax dollars and tax increase decisions in the hands of the “lowly taxpayers.”

Granted, if I were writing a tax cut bill, it probably would not look quite like this one. However, by virtue of over 500,000 voter signatures, this is what is on the table. It forces us to examine our priorities. Do we really favor lower taxes and less government? I do.

Let’s examine the chief arguments against I-695: 1. It will hurt essential services and vital transportation projects; 2. Government will grind to a halt because of the requirement to send tax and fee increases to a vote of the people.

To address the first item, let me point out a few things. A. Washington taxpayers bear the sixth largest burden in the entire nation – other states are getting by with less, ours should too. B. The money is all green – meaning it doesn’t really matter what pot the money comes out of to fund these “essential services and transportation projects.” If they are truly essential, it is the Legislature’s job to figure out how to fund them. I-695 would force a long-overdue reprioritization and rethinking of government programs. C. Washington taxpayers have already generated a $1billion surplus for state government. Let’s not forget about the transit agencies – many of which have been pushing, if not exceeding the limits of the law, in their advocacy against the initiative. In 1998, the transit agencies in the state had a combined cash balance of over $431 million. Resources clearly exist to blunt the immediate effects of the initiative.

Secondly, will government grind to a halt? Absolutely not. In 1992, the voters of Colorado passed the “Taxpayers Bill of Rights” which had a similar requirement for voter approval of tax increases. Even the naysayers in Colorado have now got religion. It is commonly held that the sky hasn’t fallen in Colorado. Furthermore, the voters routinely approve tax increases that make sense because the politicians are more careful about creating new programs and adding to the cost of government.

I understand why there is so much hand-wringing going on among the political elites. Business and Labor both want the transportation projects the state portion of the MVET revenue stream is dedicated to funding. Passage of I-695 would clearly create uncertainty for those projects. However, like I said earlier, the money is all green. When I-695 passes, it will be their job to assure that important transportation projects receive the attention they deserve in the legislature – and that the cost of those projects is carefully scrutinized. It is worthwhile to note here that highways cost more per mile in Washington than any other state. I-695 could force our state to examine how it does business and figure out how it could deliver more for less.

Finally, little has been said about the positive effect the tax cut will have on our economy. The money does not disappear; taxpayers will have more disposable income. As consumers plow this money back into the economy, the whole economy grows, providing a larger tax base for the government – just at the right time, because signs of economic cooling are beginning to show.

I-695 will force a needed reprioritization and rethinking of state and local programs, and deliver both a tax cut, and tax hike decision making authority to the “lowly voters”. This “lowly voter” says vote yes.