OLYMPIA—A voter-passed initiative to limit new taxes has been tossed out the window by state lawmakers at least temporarily.
Late Monday night, the Senate joined House members and voted to suspend Initiative 960 just ahead of House and Senate Democrats unveiling their budget proposals.
The initiative was approved in 2007 -- and would have required a two-thirds approval from legislators to raise taxes, compared with a simple majority for other measures.
The bill approved Monday night would pause most of the measure's provisions until July 2011, when the next two-year budget cycle begins.
"This is just the beginning," said Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood. "This is the catalyst that will be used to raise all sorts of taxes."
The measure now goes to Gov. Chris Gregoire, who is expected to sign it, because budget writers want a mix of spending cuts, tax increases, and one-time fixes to fill a $2.8 billion deficit.
Senate Democrats are scheduled to release their budget proposal Tuesday morning, with House Democrats following around lunchtime.
The Senate is expected to propose a tax package to pay for state programs that would be saved from the chopping block. But the House will likely hold off from announcing any firm tax plans.
Gregoire has proposed about $605 million in tax increases. She'd also cut about $1 billion and use one-time fixes to bridge the rest of the budget gap.
Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, noted that lawmakers from both parties have voted to suspend initiatives over the years to deal with economic emergencies.
"It's our duty to balance the budget every year and we do that," she said. "And we do that often by amending or temporarily suspending initiatives as we're doing here."
Lawmakers can amend initiatives with a simple majority vote after they've been on the books for two years, making this the first legislative session that Democrats can suspend I-960 with their current majorities.
Five Democrats who crossed over to vote with Republicans against the measure include Sens. Steve Hobbs of Lake Stevens, Claudia Kauffman of Kent, Derek Kilmer of Gig Harbor, Chris Marr of Spokane and Tim Sheldon of Potlatch.
The I-960 suspension passed the House on a 51-47 vote last week, but not before minority Republican legislators exploited their limited powers to extend debate and strongly protest the measure over a two-day debate.
The Senate had already passed the measure a few weeks ago, but needed to agree with some changes the House made.
The House had restored a few aspects of the initiative that the Senate had removed, adding back e-mail notifications sent to the public about proposed tax increases, including 10-year cost projections of the measures.
The House did not restore the part of I-960 that requires a nonbinding advisory vote by the public on taxes passed by the Legislature, something Republicans criticized.
"Shouldn't the taxpayers have a say?" asked Sen. Janea Holmquist, R-Moses Lake. "I sure think they should."