"No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions." --Thomas Jefferson to John Tyler, 1804.

Session in miniature

intertior, Washington statehouse Yeah, it’s problematic, trying to do a whole lot of complex stuff in the space of one day, which is what the Washington Legislature is trying to do today. The good news is that it tips their hands – we get to see what’s coming next, in the regular session starting January 14, when they can stretch out and roll.

Today’s one-day (that’s the theory; we’ll know in a few hours if they make it) special session was called for an unusual purpose, to reverse a decision by the state supreme court. In reviewing Initiative 747, passed in 2002 and imposing 1% property tax limitations, the court essentially held that the voters didn’t know what they were doing, and the measure was therefore void. It was one of the least well thought-out rulings by that court in recent times (we can’t think offhand of one in years more poorly reasoned), and it sent the state’s property tax crowd into a spin. And got local governments, some of them considering immediate tax increases, interested too.

Since this is the stuff tax revolts are made of, Governor Chris Gregoire called a special session to install the content of I-747 into state code by legislative action, and also pass a bill intended to help hardship cases in property tax payments. You should recall here that neither Gregoire nor most other Democrats were in favor of I-747 in the first place.

This morning, public radio reporter Austin Jenkins asked the Democratic leadership a sound question, one implicitly referenced in a number of columns and editorials: “Do you see the 1 percent cap as good and sensible public policy, or do you see that you’re here today to enact the will of the voter?”

This square could have been circled, and the day’s task simplified: “We’re here to say that the initiative is a valid legal instrument, and shouldn’t be short-circuited because someone does mind-reads the voters and thereby decides they were confused. Most initiatives would be subject to such attacks, and they shouldn’t be. That’s why we’re here.”

Of course, they didn’t do that. The issue of property tax limitations and burdens came directly to the fore. Led by initiative master Tim Eyman, who wanted not only restitution of I-747 but also additions to enhance it (mainly related to “banking” of funds). Followed up by Democrats who had their own ideas about what to do with property tax limits.

A good deal of this played out in the Senate Ways & Means Committee, where amendments were delivered like gunshots. There were four: two from Democrats, two from Republicans.

Senator Eric Oemig, D-Kirkland, offered a plan to sunset I-747 subject to a vote of the people. Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, proposed revising – increasing – allowable property tax changes. On the other side, an amendment from Senator Joseph Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, had a banking-related proposal aimed at enhancing I-747. And Senator Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood, had another, albeit relatively modest measure, aimed at studying “banked” and other financial capacity. All four were rejected.

But Oemig’s was rejected only narrowly. And in amendments on the property tax deferral bill, one substantive amendment to strike the whole bill and just study the subject instead initially passed, and with some Republican support.

Part of the reason a number of these measures failed was that legislative leadership wanted to confine the topics under discussion very narrowly, as would befit a one-day session. But their arrival also shows how fertile this topic is likely to be when the regular session come around.

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