EDITORIAL | A larger point from bad initiatives

There’s a saying that there are only two certainties in life: death and taxes.

If you live in Washington state, there are actually four: death, taxes, Tim Eyman attempting to repeal or lower said taxes, and the state Supreme Court eventually ruling Eyman’s efforts unconstitutional.

Last week, the state’s highest court again struck down one of Eyman’s anti-tax efforts. This time the effort in question was Initiative 1366, which would have cut the state’s sales tax rate by 1 percent this past April — that is, unless the Legislature agreed to allow the public to vote on a constitutional amendment requiring a two-thirds majority in Olympia for all future tax hikes.

It was a daring attempt at tax reform by ransom and an anti-heroic strategy that could certainly make one understand why the court shut it down.

But Eyman’s constant presence, and the fact that the court continually strikes down his measures only after voters have given them the thumbs up, creates a weird conundrum.

This isn’t really a matter of the details and potential consequences of his initiatives: They’re typically ill-advised and poorly timed. They always threaten to add another unnecessary hurdle to the budget process when it’s already hard enough to get both sides of the aisle to agree on much of anything.

Rather, it’s the idea at the crux of each of these campaigns:

A simple majority — not the supermajority that Eyman is seemingly in love with — of the people in this state continue to send the message that it should be difficult to raise taxes, or that they should at least have a greater say in the process.

It could be that some people vote yes on these initiatives knowing full well they’ll fall apart with the first litigious gust. But that doesn’t matter — their vote is their voice when the Legislature’s budgeting process leaves them voiceless. 

No, Eyman doesn’t provide solutions when he lobs his initiatives at the state (and, wouldn’t you know it, there’s another one on the ballot this fall).

But the Legislature should recognize the message voters are sending, the next time they convene in Olympia.

And they should know it’s not as simple as a populist sentiment toward “no new taxes.”

Sure, that’s part of it. But, beyond that, the public wants want to know that their tax dollars are being used effectively.

With every yes vote on one of Eyman’s initiatives, it becomes clearer the case hasn’t been made.

If something isn’t done to prove to Washingtonians that the state is making the best use of its money, Eyman will keep coming back to the well with new measures — some of which will be defeated at the ballot box, while others work their way through the courts before meeting their untimely end.

Actually, he’ll probably keep coming back no matter what. It’s a Washington state certainty.