Taxes were the subject of debate Wednesday night as the Clallam County League of Women Voters hosted discussions of three statewide initiatives on the ballot for November's election.
The debate was held at the Port Angeles Senior Center in front of an audience of close to 50. Each of the three initiatives, which all involved taxes, was debated for 40 minutes.
The first initiative debated was Initiative 1098, a tax reform measure that would impose a high-earners income tax on people filing individual income of $200,000 or more or couples filing joint income of $400,000 a year.
Proponent Aurnie Sutliffe, of Marysville, said the measure would cut property taxes by 20 percent, eliminate the Business and Occupation tax for about 80 percent of tax-paying businesses in Washington and generate
$2 billion a year in revenue for a dedicated trust fund for education and health care.
The tax would affect the wealthiest 1.2 percent, he said, and would provide much-needed funding for schools and health care.
Jim McEntire, Port of Port Angeles commissioner and Republican candidate for the Washington state Legislature Position 2, represented the opposition.
McEntire said instead of raising taxes lawmakers should work harder to prioritize funding.
"I don't think it's right to put the burden on individuals and businesses," he said.
McEntire said he also thinks the measure is unconstitutional because the tax would be determined as a property tax, not an excise tax.
"It's the opinion of most constitutional lawyers in Washington state that this law would be upheld under the Supreme Court, should it come to that," Sutliffe said, adding that the measure is not a property tax.
Amber Carter, government affairs director for the Association of Washington Business, spoke in support of Initiative 1053, which would reinstate a two-thirds majority legislative vote to increase taxes.
During the last legislative session, state lawmakers repealed the two-thirds majority rule and passed tax increases, she said.
"That's in response to an economic recession when employers are struggling to keep their doors open," she said.
Carter, of Olympia, said prioritization is the only way to go and imposing a two-thirds majority will force lawmakers to make better spending decisions.
Pat Johansen, of Sequim, argued against the initiative, saying it would be putting the power in the hands of the minority.
"This makes it almost impossible to eliminate special interest deals," she said.
Using California as an example, Johansen said requiring a two-thirds majority could put Washington in a similar gridlock.
A question submitted asked what ways, besides the initiative, could voters let their legislators know they were serious and should be listened to.
"The fact is, every two years we get the opportunity to vote them out," Johansen said. "The initiative process is the lazy way out. If you think they aren't representing you right, vote them out."
Carter said tax increases can happen every year, not just every two years.
In her closing remarks Johansen quoted James Madison, who wrote about his opposition to super majorities in "The Federalist Papers," as saying, "In all cases where justice or the general good might require new laws to be passed, or active measures to be pursued, the fundamental principle of free government would be reversed. It would be no longer the majority that would rule: the power would be transferred to the minority."
This past year certain state laws were passed that added amendments to the state tax laws. A sales tax on candy along with a temporary sales tax on bottled water and temporary excise tax on carbonated beverages were passed. Initiative 1107 would end the taxes and reduce tax rates for certain food processors, proponent Karen Webster said.
Webster, of Seattle, spoke out against the tax and gave several examples of the inconsistencies in the law.
For example: Almond Roca, based in Tacoma, is taxed while a very similar candy, Italian-made Ferrero Rocher, is not, she said.
Also, Chips Ahoy! cookies are not taxed while bagged chocolate chips are, she said.
Webster said the taxes are hurting Washington businesses and individuals.
"It's time we send a clear message to the Legislature," she said. "Don't tax our groceries."
Johansen, who argued against the initiative, said it isn't just about candy.
"It's about the $14 million from the American Beverage Association," she said. "It is without a doubt the best campaign money can buy."
Johansen agreed there are some idiosyncrasies in the bill but it isn't appropriate to throw it out. If repealed, the $100 million in tax revenue, which goes to schools, health care and services for seniors and youths, will have to be found elsewhere or the programs cut, she said.
"I wish someone would take that $14 million and throw it in the state budget so we could fix health care," she said.
For more information on all ballot measures, go to www.sos.wa.gov and click on Elections & Voting, then "2010 General Election Voters' Guide."
Reach Amanda Winters at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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