Protections of I-960 more relevant than ever

By Rep. Christopher Hurst

I understand as well as anyone the gravity of the financial condition we are currently in. Need is being most keenly felt today and indeed the impacts are beyond anything we have seen since the Great Depression. Unemployment numbers don’t lie. Families, businesses and those relying on critical government services have all seen resources being reduced to critical levels.

Also abundantly apparent is that almost a decade of neglect and lack of oversight of our financial markets have put us in the position we find ourselves in today – a global financial meltdown. So great was the national outrage, citizens changed control of the White House, but make no mistake about it, their patience is short. This was not so much a departure from the Republican Party as it was a huge move to the middle. That’s where most people live. Bitter and divisive politics have become so repulsive to the people that almost 40 percent of U.S. citizens today see themselves as Independents.

That is why a partisan solution will not suffice today.

I am deeply saddened that some in Olympia were single-mindedly determined to raise taxes by first suspending Initiative 960. I-960 was enacted by the people to require a two-thirds vote of the members of the House and Senate before raising new taxes, or in the alternative, to send any revenue package to the votes for their advice and consent.

The voters are not dumb. They know what they said and how they wanted their government to address what we hope will be the beginning of an economic recovery. They are also fearful that if their elected officials act wrongly and increase taxes unwisely, the recovery will be delayed or imperiled. I agree.

The problem is as much one of process as it is of substance.

I believe we have not done enough to reduce the size of some portions of government, in keeping with the financial conditions that exist today. Families have made adjustments. Businesses, both large and small, have also made adjustments. Government did not do enough before moving to a revenue option.

I am still troubled by the current process. There are two, as of yet, relatively untried processes. The first is to find a solution that could get the two-thirds vote in the Legislature. I understand the difficulties very clearly; however some of this difficulty lies in predicating a cooperative discussion upon first working together to carefully evaluate government efficiencies. Make no mistake, we have a lot of very hard working and dedicated government workers doing everything they can each day to serve their citizens. Yet middle and upper management in state government is bloated and everyone knows it. Mark Emmert, University of Washington president, makes $906,500 a year at a time when enrollment costs for students is increasing 14 percent. That isn’t simply bloated, it’s arrogant. Then add to that his “sacrifice” of forgoing a pay raise this year, but only in return for a $450,000 bonus in a couple of years; he gets six months off with pay. That’s obscene and we could do better.

The second option available to lawmakers is to get government spending under control and then, if necessary, send a revenue package to the voters. There would be great wisdom in this. First, it would result in more diligence prior to sending a package for voter consideration. Secondarily, the voters are deeply concerned about raising taxes right now. So am I. Imprudent action could imperil our economic recovery. The protections initially granted by I-960 may be more relevant now than ever. The stakes couldn’t be higher. If the voters choose to repeal the current tax proposals, nothing is gained in the end anyway.

Therefore, I opposed and voted against the effort to suspend I-960 and raise taxes. It’s an imprudent course. We have not yet done everything to make government more efficient. Further, we have not seriously considered the other options contained in I-960 – greater cooperation leading to a consensus of two-thirds of the Legislature, or in the alternative, seeking the support of the voters. I trust they have great interest in a quick economic recovery and the creation of jobs for a stronger future. So do I.

State Rep. Christopher Hurst represents the 31st Legislative District, is chairman of the House Public Safety Committee and worked as a police detective for 25 years.

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