Washington Senate moves to eliminate advisory votes on tax increases
The Washington state Senate passed a bill Wednesday that would repeal advisory votes — non-binding votes from the public that are currently required to be held on all tax increases.
The bill, SB 5082, would eliminate these advisory votes if the state House of Representatives passes it.
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Advisory votes were originally introduced in Initiative 960 in 2007, which required all tax increases to be adopted with a two-thirds vote, required a 10-year cost analysis to be distributed to voters, as well as the advisory vote.
“With this measure, the people intend to protect taxpayers by creating a series of accountability procedures to ensure greater legislative transparency, broader public participation, and wider agreement before state government take more of the people’s money,” the initiative read.
Advisory votes are non-binding and do not eliminate any passed tax increases but rather act as a way to gauge voter opinion, and 75% of advisory votes were rejected by the legislature.
Some opponents are arguing that these advisory votes are clogging up the ballot and promote an ‘anti-tax’ sentiment. Sen. Patty Kuderer (D-Bellevue) is the bill’s sponsor and released a statement explaining why she thinks that the advisory vote system should be discarded.
“These non-binding, vote-imposters pollute our ballots with anti-tax propaganda specifically designed to instill distrust in government—and they do it on our most fundamental sanctuary of democracy, the ballot. They are fraudulent because they use loaded, misleading language meant to push private interests and to influence rather than measure public opinion. We need real tools for making the Legislature’s work more transparent, not political rhetoric,” said Kuderer.
The legislation was proposed by the Redmond-based nonprofit Northwest Progressive Institute. The bill’s text explains that the goal of the legislation is to remove the advisory votes in order to make the ballot clearer.
The legislature finds that making the act of casting a ballot as simple as possible will help promote the free and equal elections guaranteed by Article I, section 19 and Article VI, section 1 of the Washington state Constitution. The legislature recognizes that transparency and fiscal responsibility are important to the people of Washington, and that election administration and ballot design should reflect these long-held values. The legislature further finds that the people rightfully expect items on their ballots to be neutrally and accurately worded. Finally, the legislature finds for the votes that Washingtonians cast to have meaning, the ballot must be limited to candidate elections that give the people the power to choose their representatives or ballot measures that determine what laws and plan of government the state and its localities shall have.
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The bill would instead create a voter website with access to information about operating, capital, and transportation budgets, as well as state spending on both state and local levels. It also asks that a QR code and website address be placed on voters’ pamphlets so voters can easily access the information.
Senate Republicans who argued against the bill claimed the advisory votes are essential to the democratic process and allow voters to voice their opinions on all tax increases which affect them.
“Some who support Senate Bill 5082 claim, without any supporting data, that abolishing advisory votes would encourage more voter participation. Because nothing says ‘your voice matters’ like getting rid of direct democracy?” the state Republican caucus said in a statement. “Democrats think advisory votes are confusing to voters. In truth, they just don’t like what votes have to say.”