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‘Protection from future taxation’: Public has its say at legislative hearing on I-2111

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(The Center Square) – It was standing room only Tuesday in Olympia for a legislative public hearing on Initiative 2111 to ban the state and local jurisdictions from taxing personal income.

An income tax has been widely unpopular in Washington state, with voters rejecting it at least 10 times.

At Tuesday’s joint public hearing, members of the House Finance Committee and the Senate Ways & Means Committee heard testimony from citizens for and against I-2111.

Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, filed the paperwork to get the initiative process started, as part of voter advocacy group Let’s Go Washington’s effort that resulted in a total of six initiatives to the Legislature.

Initiative 2111 is designed to do one thing, and that is codify in law the state’s long-standing tradition of not having an income tax based on personal income,” said Walsh, who also serves as the chair of the Washington State Republican Party.

He went on to say, “We have a system, a three-legged stool of property taxes, a sales tax and a business and occupation tax, and the spirit of this measure is to focus on that good system.”

Steven Gordon with Concerned Taxpayers of Washington also testified in support of 2111.

“Realistically this should be unnecessary, given that both constitutional precedent and the people of Washington have been very clear on multiple occasions,” he said. “Washingtonians do not want an income tax.”

Gordon told lawmakers why he thinks so many people signed up in favor of the the initiative.

“It’s because people don’t necessarily think they’re getting value for their tax dollars,” he explained, “Crime is up. Homelessness and addiction deaths have skyrocketed, while affordability for basic families has moved further out of reach.”

I-2111 had its detractors as well.

Marcy Bowers is the executive director of the Washington Poverty Action Network.

“We are opposing this bill because it doesn’t do anything for Washingtonians,” she said. “Our state continues to have one of the most upside-down tax codes in the nation, where those with the least pay the most.”

Bowers also criticized I-2111 for being vaguely worded.

Sharon Chen, a former Microsoft manager, urged a no vote on the initiative as well.

“I’m one of the 0.2% of Washingtonians fortunate enough to pay our new capital gains excise tax,” she said. “I’m interested in living in a place that has clean air, clean water, investments in public schools and strong communities. To have these things, we need to pay for them.”

She concluded by telling lawmakers the initiative doesn’t do anything to address real problems in Washington.

The majority of those who spoke, however, did so in support of the proposed income tax ban, including Olympic Peninsula resident Eric Pratt.

“I’m here to offer my behemoth support for I-2111,” he said. “I keep hearing people saying this measure does nothing, which is interesting because if this bill does nothing, what it’s doing is protecting us from something – something in the future. What we want is protection from future taxation.”

Taxes are already too much, Pratt noted.

“I’m a single father,” he said. “I don’t get any supportive services from the state. I do this with my own income with two kids. if the tax burden increases, it becomes harder and harder for people like me.”

After nearly an hour of public testimony, House Finance Committee Chair April Berg, D-Mill Creek, adjourned the meeting.

Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, who is the ranking minority member on the Senate Ways & Means Committee, spoke with The Center Square just after the hearing concluded.

“They [Democrats] have tentatively scheduled a meeting in both chambers on Friday, and if they’re going to move this that’s when it would happen,” he said.

Asked if he thinks the measure will pass, Braun answered, “It seems promising, but we’ll have to wait and see. I’m still optimistic.”

On Wednesday morning, two other initiatives are set to receive public hearings: Initiative 2081 that would give parents the right to examine their child’s textbooks and curriculum and receive their child’s school records, and Initiative 2113 that would roll back restrictions on police pursuits.

Three other initiatives will not receive hearings: Initiative 2109 to repeal the capital gains tax, Initiative 2117 to repeal the Climate Commitment Act, and Initiative 2124 to opt out the WA Cares long-term care insurance plan.

The Legislature may approve the initiatives or send them to voters. If an initiative is rejected by the Legislature or the Legislature takes no action by the end of the session on March 7, the secretary of state will certify the initiative for the next November general election. The Legislature may also pass an alternative proposal to accompany an initiative on the ballot.

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