Mario Lotmore | Last Updated: 11.26.2019
Washington State taxes- With the election season reaching its end, it is time to talk about the large number of advisory votes contained on the ballot this year.
Advisory votes are a unique thing on the ballot; they are non-binding questions concerned with maintaining or repealing house bills. In other words, though only three of the twelve were voted to be maintained (and the other nine were voted to be repealed), the legislature is not obligated to repeal. The vote only serves to advise the legislature.
Advisory votes began as part of Initiative 960, passed in 2007 and sponsored by Tim Eyman. In 2019, the total of all Washington State taxes in the advisory votes amounted to almost ten billion dollars.
The Lynnwood Times reached out to several elected officials for comment on the advisory votes and received three responses: one from Senator Jesse Salomon, one from Representative Lilian Ortiz-Self and one from House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox.
“Advisory votes are confusing to voters and clutter the voter’s pamphlet,” said Senator Salomon.
“The Tacoma News Tribune’s editorial board recently summed it up: ‘What’s missing from the advisory votes is context. They don’t mention that the taxes were negotiated by the House, Senate and governor, with input from citizens, in the time-honored system known as American representative democracy. The original backers of advisory votes sold them as a way to provide feedback for lawmakers and help inform voters — but they fall short in both instances.
In 2019, we passed a budget that puts people first and honors our shared priorities to invest in education, housing, health care and the environment. To pay for those priorities, we found ways through new revenues to finally begin to fix our state’s upside-down tax structure by taxing companies and services that can afford it.”
Representative Ortiz-Self had this to say: “When the Legislature increases taxes, including when we close tax preferences, the voters get a chance to weigh in. However, because of the way advisory votes have to be written, advisory vote descriptions are often confusing and only include very limited information. Other ballot measures have pro and con arguments, an explanatory statement, and information on the effect of the proposed measure, while advisory vote descriptions do not include explanations and have to follow a very specific template.
For example, when we look at Advisory Vote 24, which was on the Workforce Education Investment, the information provided to voters did not include that Washington State taxes increase will pay for free or reduced tuition for qualifying higher education students, increase funding in our community and technical colleges, and expand class sizes in high-demand fields, such as nursing and computer science. While we cannot say for certain that including the intent of the Washington State taxes increases would change the way people vote, the results of the advisory votes would be more meaningful if the ballot provided more information and context.”
“I do not believe advisory votes have led to repealing tax increases in the past, and I do not anticipate that changing in this instance,” she said.
House Minority Leader Wilcox provided this statement: “I’m glad that the public agrees with Republican positions. The votes of the public during this election corresponded with the votes of House and Senate republicans during the 2019 legislative session. Unfortunately, the votes of the public and the republicans in the legislature are equally powerless on the critical tax issues covered by the advisory votes.”
Only time will tell if future advisory votes may include more information to cause less confusion and provide more context, like Salomon and Ortiz-Self suggest, or if they will remain the way they are.