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12/22/2010
Washington: Voter Initiative Thwarts Transportation Tax Hikes
Washington attorney general ruling upholds referendum requiring legislature to approve all toll and fee hikes.

AG Rob McKenna
Washington state's attorney general confirmed Monday that the legislature may no longer pass authority to raise transportation tolls and fees to an unelected commission. In November, 64 percent of voters approved Initiative 1053 which stated that taxes must be approved by the vote of a majority in the state House and Senate.

The voter-approved measure is now being used to block the state Transportation Commission from approving an increase in fares for the Washington state ferries. The legislature turned to the commission to make the unpopular move of hiking road and bridge tolls as well as the charges for use of the ferry. According to the attorney general's office, the voting public rejected this approach.

"The initiative accordingly rendered legislative approval granted before the enactment of I-1053 insufficient to authorize the increase or imposition of a fee," Deputy Solicitor General Jeffrey T. Even wrote. "In a manner of speaking, I-1053 hit the 'reset' button on legislative approval of the imposition or increase of fees, limiting such actions to those approved anew by the legislature after the effective date of the measure."

State Senator Pam Roach (R-Auburn) had asked for the ruling to clarify that the initiative had the full force of law on the questions of tolls and ferry hikes.

"Years ago, legislators figured they could avoid the potential wrath of voters if they could just find a way to blame someone else," Roach wrote in an email. "And they did. The legislature voted to give away its authority, and with it their responsibility and accountability, to the Transportation Commission, which has been working outside of the 'accountability zone' for decades. It is wrong to have such a powerful body of unelected individuals making such impactful decisions."

Initiative guru Tim Eyman, wrote the referendum to block the legislature from undoing the effects of I-1053 and similar measures to limit the ways in which the legislature could increase taxes.

"We're obviously pleased that the voters will get the policies they voted for," initiative sponsor Tim Eyman wrote in an email. "We firmly believe that bills that increase ferry fares or impose tolls must be accompanied by reforms and taxpayer protections -- they don't deserve a blank check."

State Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Mary Margaret Haugen (D-Camano Island) has vowed to overturn the initiative, a move both Eyman and Roach believe to be an uphill battle.

A copy of the informal ruling is available in a 1mb PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File Can the Transportation Commission raise taxes, fees or tolls (Office of the Attorney General, 12/20/2010)



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