Ballot Initiative Blues – Part 3

“Voters aren’t informed enough to make good decisions.”

Washington’s Initiative 1098 is a great example, in my opinion, of exactly how informed voters are.  This request to create an income tax in Washington (one of seven states that currently has NO state income tax) was couched in some seriously enticing terms.

The proposed tax would have only applied to the so-called ‘top 1%’: those making 200k (400k for couples), and promised to reduce more widely-shouldered taxes on property and business while shoring up education and health care funds.  Most voters would have benefitted personally, if marginally.  A small minority of taxpayers would have been on the hook for paying the new income tax.

So why did it fail?  Perhaps it was because Washington voters don’t like income taxes, period.  They’ve rejected that idea five times in their state’s history.  Perhaps they believed it would expand over time to include all or many taxpayers, or that it would drive job-creators out of the state.  Or maybe they were wary of how the state spends funds.  But any one of those reasons means that voters have likely made some kind of secondary analysis: “This seems good on the surface, but I think it would hurt job creation,” or “I’d sure love to see more money go to education, but my state doesn’t have a great track record of keeping dedicated funds where they were meant to be.”

That 64% of voters rejected the measure suggests that people do think critically about ballot initiatives beyond their immediate interests, and that spending, or the backing of ‘special interests’ (here; Bill Gates, the AFT and SEIU) does not guarantee a win by any stretch of the imagination.

Emily Iles
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