Advocates for college students, emergency responders, children, the poor, elderly, disabled and others encouraged the Senate Ways and Means Committee this afternoon to vote to suspend Initiative 960 "so in tough times you can make tough decisions."
Committee Chairwoman Margarita Prentice, a Renton Democrat who sponsored the bill, said "I-960 is clearly unconstitutional. But the Supreme Court punted. They said the Legislature can fix it and that's what we're doing."
A common theme among speakers during a 70-minute long hearing on Senate Bill 6843 was that a majority of the Legislature needs to be able to act in a difficult budget requirement rather than be beholden to the will of a minority under I-960's two-thirds vote requirements for new revenue. Under currently law, new revenue includes not only new taxes but revenue generated from the closure of tax exemptions, revenue used to replace what a court ruling takes away and some shifts between state funds.
"Please return majority rule to the state of Washington," a representative from the Eldercare Alliance pleaded.
Critics, including I-960 sponsor Tim Eyman, argued the state finds itself in a budget shortfall due to overspending. But Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, asked "where is the fraud, waste and abuse?"
Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent, pointed out that the state spends less per capita than it did 10 years ago and suggested a change may be in order.
"We've reduced spending, we still have a crisis," Keiser said.
Critics also blasted the bill for eliminating notification requirements for those that sign up to receive notices when a bill that raises taxes or fees is introduced. Notifications still would go out every time such a bill is given a hearing or advanced in the legislative process.
Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, said preparing such notifications soaks up too much staff time.
Committee vice chair Rodney Tom, D-Bellevue, pointed out that just 2,119 people are signed up to receive the notifications anyway, including perhaps 750 legislators, staff and lobbyists.
"You're looking at probably 1,300 real people, so let's put that in perspective," Tom said.