Legislators are looking to get rid of the advisory votes that allow voters to give feedback on tax-raising legislation.
Senate Bill 5182’s primary sponsor, Sen. Patty Kuderer (D-Bellevue), called advisory votes a “failed experiment” during the bill’s public hearing on Jan. 20.
“In theory, these votes are opportunities for voters to express their approval or disapproval of actions taken by the legislature,” Kuderer said. “But in reality, they are nothing more than push polls designed to instill distrust in government and the decisions made by elected leaders.”
Legally non-binding advisory votes have been informing voters of tax-increasing legislation since 2008 after voters approved Initiative 960, spearheaded by anti-tax activist Tim Eyman.
Eyman testified that support for advisory votes has only increased among voters since they were originally implemented. He cited the more than 72 million votes cast in eight elections on 35 tax advisory votes.
Kuderer said these ballot provisions confuse and anger voters with biased language and assertions that tax increasing legislation was passed “without a vote of the people.”
“Well that’s exactly what a representative democracy is,” she explained, saying that legislators are voted by the people to make policy decisions on their behalf.
Additionally, Kuderer said the advisory votes do a poor job of adequately explaining what the tax increases are funding as well as their impact on the state budget, including vague phrases such as “for government spending.”
Andrew Villeneuve, founder of the Northwest Progressive Institute, testified that advisory votes are not real ballot measures and rather anti-tax messages made to look like ballot measures.
He also claimed that advisory votes discourage voter participation because they can confuse or mislead voters about policies and tax legislation.
“You can’t ask them to measure anything because they violate every single guideline for asking unbiased questions,” Villeneuve said.
The bill will replace advisory votes with accurate information about tax increases, including budgetary charts and impacts.
Eyman has said that the Legislature’s effort to get rid of advisory votes is evidence that legislators do not care about voter input.
Kuderer said he is wrong.
“We care a lot about what voters think and feel,” said Kuderer, adding that she is open to honest and open conversations about policy with constituents.
She said these ballot measures are not intended to gauge or measure voter opinion, but rather to sow distrust in government and to play into the theme that “all taxes are bad.”
“As a legislator, I believe in transparency,” Kuderer said. “We have to rebuild trust in government, and advisory votes are an obstacle to that.”