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Washington voters reject initiatives raising AND lowering taxes

The Associated Press

SEATTLE (AP) — Washington voters overwhelmingly rejected an attempt to increase the sales tax — and just as strongly rejected an attempt to reduce their property taxes.

The landslide defeats stunned supporters of Initiative 884, which would have increased the sales tax to improve education, and snapped Tim Eyman's successful string of tax-cutting initiatives.

Apparently nothing is certain when it comes to initiatives on Election Day, not even taxes.

I-884 would have increased the sales tax by one penny on the dollar to pay for a wide range of education improvements. I-892 would have allowed 18,000 new electronic slot machines across the state, with a 35 percent tax on the machines going to pay for property tax relief.

Both measures were rejected by 61 percent of voters Tuesday. The results showed that voters' response to initiatives is more complex than a simple pro- or anti-tax mood.

"It disproves the view of voters as Pavlovian dogs who say, 'Ooh, me see tax cuts, grunt, me vote for tax cuts,'" Eyman said. "I think voters really liked half of both the proposals. If we could lower property taxes and increase funding for education, clearly we'd have a major winner."

Indeed, both measures married a popular idea, improving education and reducing taxes, with an unpopular idea, raising taxes and increasing gambling. Rather than sending a unified message on taxes, voters decided the bad outweighed the good in both cases.

"Asking people to increase taxes a whole penny seems like a really hard sell," said Western Washington University political science professor Todd Donovan. "And the state has not been real sympathetic to gambling issues."

Donovan said I-892's resounding defeat may signal that Eyman's populist, tax-cutting message is "running out of easy targets."

Eyman announced his next ballot measure will focus on performance audits for state and local government — a "good government" issue that lacks the sex appeal of his bold tax-cutting proposals, starting with 1999's Initiative 695, which repealed the car-tab tax.

The gambling initiative was doomed in part by an effective $6 million advertising campaign from the "No on 892" coalition, funded by casino-owning tribes that would have lost their exclusive hold on electronic slot machines if the measure had succeeded.

But money isn't everything. The I-884 campaign spent nearly $3 million, dwarfing the paltry $13,000 spent by opponents. It wasn't enough to sway voters.

"In the case of 884, voters saw through the rhetoric," said Marsha Richards, education reform director at the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, a conservative think tank. She said voters didn't trust that the education tax would be spent well.

"Every year we hear we need more money for kids, and there's a disconnect," Richards said. "I don't think it can be fully explained by just an anti-tax mood."

The two measures' defeats probably are not a symptom of general initiative fatigue, as Washington voters approved two other initiatives by wide margins on Tuesday.

"Polls show people are quite happy to have just as many if not more initiatives on the ballot," Donovan said.



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