If history is any guide, lawmakers intent on going to the ballot with a tax increase proposal will face more problems than simply trying to fit their proposal on the election calendar.

With the exception of targeted sin taxes in 2001, 1994 and a 911 tax in 1991, voters haven’t been kind to tax increases proposals on the ballot.

In fact, tax increases specifically earmarked for education went down in flames in 2010 (64% no), 2004 (60% no), 1989 (66% no), 1975 (67% no) and 1973 (77% no).

Voter support for requiring a 2/3 vote threshold or voter approval to raise taxes, however, has received consistent support with approval in 2010 (64% yes), 2007 (51% yes), 1999 (56% yes), 1998 (57% yes) and 1993 (51% yes).

Here are details on state ballot measures proposing tax increases, tax repeals or tax restrictions (or loosing of restrictions) since 1932:

Tax increase

  • 2010 – I-1098: Initiative Measure No. 1098 concerns establishing a state income tax and reducing other taxes. This measure would tax “adjusted gross income” above $200,000 (individuals) and $400,000 (joint-filers), reduce state property tax levies, reduce certain business and occupation taxes, and direct any increased revenues to education and health. Yes 36%; No 64%
  • 2010 – R-52: The legislature has passed Engrossed House Bill No. 2561, concerning authorizing and funding bonds for energy efficiency projects in schools. This bill would authorize bonds to finance construction and repair projects increasing energy efficiency in public schools and higher education buildings, and continue the sales tax on bottled water otherwise expiring in 2013. Yes 46%; No 54%
  • 2004 – I-884: Initiative Measure No. 884 concerns dedicating funds designated for educational purposes. This measure would create an education trust fund for smaller classes, extended learning programs, certain salary increases, preschool access, and expanded college enrollments and scholarships, funded by increasing retail sales tax by 1%. Yes 40%; No 60%
  • 2002 – R-51: The Legislature has passed House Bill No. 2969, financing transportation improvements through transportation fees and taxes. This bill would increase highway capacity, public transportation, passenger and freight rail, and transportation financing accountability through increased fuel excise taxes, sales taxes on vehicles, and weight fees on trucks and large vehicles. Yes 38%; No 62%
  • 2001 – I-773: Initiative Measure No. 773 concerns additional tobacco taxes for low-income health programs and other programs. This measure would impose an additional sales tax on cigarettes and a surtax on wholesaled tobacco products. The proceeds would be earmarked for existing programs and expanded health care services for low-income persons. Yes 66%; No 34%
  • 1994 – R-43: Shall taxes on sales of cigarettes, liquor, and pop syrup be extended to fund violence reduction and drug enforcement programs? Yes 57%; No 43%
  • 1991 – R-42: Shall enhanced 911 emergency telephone dialing be provided throughout the state and be funded by a tax on telephone lines? Yes 61%; No 39%
  • 1989 – I-102: Shall the State support of children and family services and K-12 education programs be increased by $360,000,000 in new taxes? Yes 34%; No 66%
  • 1986 – I-90: Shall sales and use taxes be increased, 1/8 of 1%, to fund comprehensive fish and wildlife conservation and recreation programs? Yes 39%; No 61%
  • 1982 – I-435: Shall corporate franchise taxes, measured by net income, replace sales taxes on food and state corporate business and occupation taxes? Yes 34%; No 66%
  • 1975 – I-314: Shall corporations pay a 12% excise tax measured by income so that special school levies may be reduced or eliminated? Yes 33%; No 67%
  • 1973 – HJR 37:  Shall a graduated net income tax be authorized, excess levies for school operations be prohibited, and some excise taxes limited? Yes 23%; No 77%
  • 1972 – HJR 1: Shall the state constitution be amended to require periodic legislative review of all exemptions, deductions, exclusions from, or credits against any state or local taxes (except those concerning property held by religious organizations solely for religious or educational purposes) and to repeal automatically the statutory or constitutional provisions granting them unless such provisions are amended or reenacted by the legislature or (where necessary) reapproved by the people before March 1, 1977, and every tenth year thereafter? Yes 45%; No 55%
  • 1966 – I-226: An Act relating to revenue and taxation and providing for the allocation and distribution of one-tenth of the state collected retail sales tax and use tax revenues to cities and towns to provide for public safety, law enforcement, fire protection, public health, and for park and recreation services. Yes 44%; No 56%
  • 1958 – R-30: An act relating to revenue and taxation; providing that insurance payable upon the death of any person shall be taxable under the inheritance tax; providing that such tax shall be a lien upon the proceeds of the policy. Yes 6%; No 94%
  • 1944 – I-158: An act relating to revenue and taxation; providing for the levy and collection of a three per cent tax on gross income; providing for certain exemptions and deductions; providing for the disposition of revenue derived hereunder; prescribing monthly payments of not less than sixty dollars to certain aged, blind, disabled or widowed persons from an Employment and Retirement Mutual Insurance Fund, herein created; prescribing duties of officers and procedure in relation hereto; regulating disposition of payments by beneficiaries; defining terms and prescribing penalties. Yes 30%; No 70%
  • 1942 – Constitutional Amendment Article VII, Sec. 2. A Proposal to amend Article VII of the Constitution by adding a new section, section 2, providing that income shall not be construed as property for the purpose of taxation, and empowering the legislature to enact graduated net income taxes, and to provide exemptions, offsets and deductions. Yes 34%; No 66%
  • 1938 – SJR 5: A Proposal to amend Section 1, Article VII of the Constitution of the State of Washington relating to taxation by providing that nothing contained in said section shall be construed to prevent the enactment of a graduated net income tax law. Yes 33% ; No 67%
  • 1936 – SJR 7: A Proposal to repeal section 12, article XI and amend sections 1 and 9, article VII of the constitution by providing: uniform taxation upon the same class of subjects; that the legislature may provide exemptions and graduated net income tax, may vest municipalities with power to make local improvements by special assessment or taxation; cannot require counties or municipalities to tax for county or municipal purposes but may under legislative restriction, vest them with such authority. Yes 22%; No 78%
  • 1934 – HJR 12: A resolution amending section 1 of Article VII of the constitution by providing that all taxes shall be uniform upon the same class of subjects within the territorial limits of the authority levying the tax and shall be levied and collected for public purposes only; providing that there shall be such exemptions from taxation as the legislature may by general law provide; and providing that nothing contained in this section shall be construed to prevent the enactment of a graduated net income tax law. Yes 43%; No 57%
  • 1932 – I-69: An Act relating to and requiring the payment of a graduated tax on the incomes of persons, firms, corporations, associations, joint stock companies and common law trusts, the proceeds therefrom to be placed in the state current school fund and other state funds, as a means of reducing or eliminating the annual tax on general property which now provides revenues for such funds; providing penalties for violation; and making an appropriation from the general fund of the state treasury for paying expenses of administration of the act. Yes 70%; No 30%

Tax repeal

  • 2010 – I-1107: Initiative Measure No. 1107 concerns reversing certain 2010 amendments to state tax laws. This measure would end sales tax on candy; end temporary sales tax on some bottled water; end temporary excise taxes on carbonated beverages; and reduce tax rates for certain food processors. Yes 60%; No 40%
  • 2006 – I-920: Initiative Measure No. 920 concerns estate tax. This measure would repeal Washington’s state laws imposing tax, currently dedicated for the education legacy trust fund, on transfers of estates of persons dying on or after the effective date of this measure. Yes 38%; No 62%
  • 2005 – I-912: Initiative Measure No. 912 concerns motor vehicle fuel taxes. This measure would repeal motor vehicle fuel tax increases of 3 cents in 2005 and 2006, 2 cents in 2007, and 1.5 cents per gallon in 2008, enacted in 2005 for transportation purposes. Yes 45%; No 55%
  • 2000 – I-722: Shall certain 1999 tax and fee increases be nullified, vehicles exempted from property taxes, and property tax increases (except new construction) limited to 2% annually? Yes 56%; No 44%
  • 1981 – I-402: Shall inheritance and gift taxes be abolished, and state death taxes be restricted to the federal estate tax credit allowed? Yes 67%; No 33%
  • 1977 – I-345: Shall most food products be exempt from state and local retail sales and use taxes, effective July 1, 1978? Yes 54%; No 46%
  • 1977 – I-348: Shall the new variable motor vehicle fuel tax law be repealed and the previous tax and distribution formula be reinstated? Yes 49.95%; No 50.05%
  • 1970 – I-251: An initiative declaring that existing taxes imposed by the state of Washington shall not be increased and that no new or additional taxes shall be imposed by the state of Washington. Yes 49%; No 51%

Tax restriction/other

  • 2011 – SJR 8206: The legislature has proposed a constitutional amendment on the budget stabilization account maintained in the state treasury. This amendment would require the legislature to transfer additional moneys to the budget stabilization account in each fiscal biennium in which the state has received “extraordinary revenue growth,” as defined, with certain limitations. Yes 67%; No 33%
  • 2010 – I-1053: Initiative Measure No. 1053 concerns tax and fee increases imposed by state government. This measure would restate existing statutory requirements that legislative actions raising taxes must be approved by two-thirds legislative majorities or receive voter approval, and that new or increased fees require majority legislative approval. Yes 64%; No 36%
  • 2009 – 1-1033: Initiative Measure No. 1033 concerns state, county and city revenue. This measure would limit growth of certain state, county and city revenue to annual inflation and population growth, not including voter-approved revenue increases. Revenue collected above the limit would reduce property tax levies.  Yes 42%; No 58%
  • 2007 – I-960: Initiative Measure No. 960 concerns tax and fee increases imposed by state government. This measure would require two-thirds legislative approval or voter approval for tax increases, legislative approval of fee increases, certain published information on tax-increasing bills, and advisory votes on taxes enacted without voter approval.  Yes 51%; No 49%
  • 2007 – SJR 8206: The legislature has proposed a constitutional amendment on establishment of a budget stabilization account. This amendment would require the legislature to transfer 1% of general state revenues to a budget stabilization account each year and prohibit expenditures from the account except as set forth in the amendment.  Yes 67%; No 33%
  • 2007 – HJR 4204: The legislature has proposed a constitutional amendment on school district tax levies. This amendment would provide for approval of school district excess property tax levies by simple majority vote of participating voters, and would eliminate supermajority approval requirements based on voter turnout in previous elections. Yes 51%; No 49%
  • 2006 – HJR 4223: The legislature has proposed a constitutional amendment on increasing an exemption from the personal property tax. This amendment would authorize the legislature to increase the personal property tax exemption for taxable personal property owned by each “head of a family” from three thousand ($3,000) to fifteen thousand ($15,000) dollars. Yes 80%; No 20%
  • 2002 – I-776: Initiative Measure No. 776 concerns state and local government charges on motor vehicles. This measure would require license tab fees to be $30 per year for motor vehicles, including light trucks. Certain local-option vehicle excise taxes and fees used for roads and transit would be repealed. Yes 51%; No 49%
  • 2002 – HJR 4220: The Legislature has proposed a constitutional amendment on fire protection property tax levies. This amendment would permit property tax levy propositions for fire protection districts to be submitted to voters for periods up to four years, or six years for fire facility construction, rather than annually. Yes 70%; No 30%
  • 2001 – I-747: Initiative Measure No. 747 concerns limiting property tax increases. This measure would require state and local governments to limit property tax levy increases to 1% per year, unless an increase greater than this limit is approved by the voters at an election. Yes 58%; No 42%
  • 1999 – I-695: Shall voter approval be required for any tax increase, license tab fees be $30 per year for motor vehicles, and existing vehicle taxes be repealed? Yes 56%; No 44%
  • 1998 – R-49: Shall motor vehicle excise taxes be reduced and state revenues reallocated; $1.9 billion in bonds for state and local highways approved; and spending limits modified? (Also reaffirmed tax restriction provisions of 1993 I-601) Yes 57%; No 43%
  • 1997 – HJR 4208: Shall the Constitution be amended to permit voter-approved school district levies to run for an optional four-year period, rather than the current two-year maximum? Yes 53%; No 47%
  • 1997 – R-47: Shall property taxes be limited by modifying the 106 percent limit, allowing property valuation increases to be spread over time, and reducing the state levy? Yes 64%; No 36%
  • 1993 – I-601: Shall state expenditures be limited by inflation rates and population growth, and taxes exceeding the limit be subject to referendum? (Also required 2/3 vote for tax increases) Yes 51%; No 49%
  • 1993 – I-602: Shall state revenue collections and state expenditures be limited by a factor based on personal income, and certain revenue measures repealed? Yes 45%; No 55%
  • 1990 – HJR 4231: Shall a constitutional amendment permit voters at an election to approve excess property taxes for up to six-year periods? Yes 32%; No 68%
  • 1988 – HJR 4222: Shall the legislature’s authority to exempt from tax $300 of a family head’s personal property value be increased to $3,000? Yes 79%; No 21%
  • 1987 – HJR 4220: Shall the constitution be amended to permit a 15 year state-wide special property tax levy exclusively for school construction purposes? Yes 33%; No 67%
  • 1986 – HJR 55: Shall a constitutional amendment permit voters to approve school excess levies, not exceeding six years for construction, modernization or remodeling? Yes 59%; No 41%
  • 1985 – HJR 22: Shall conditions to voter approval of public school excess property tax levies, except the 60% yes vote requirement, be eliminated? Yes 44%; No 56%
  • 1984 – I-464: Shall the value of trade-ins of like kind property be excluded from the selling price for the sales tax computation? Yes 69%; No 31%
  • 1979 – I-62: Shall state tax revenues be limited so that increases do not exceed the growth rate of total state personal income? Yes 68%; No 32%
  • 1976 – SJR 137: Shall the voters be permitted to approve excess levies for school support for two-year periods? Yes 56%; No 44%
  • 1972 – HJR 47: Shall the formula governing certain excess property tax levies approved by sixty percent of the voters be changed so the election authorizing the levy will be valid either–(1) if (as now) the total of all votes cast on the proposition is at least forty percent of the number cast at the taxing district’s last general election; or (2) if the total of “yes” votes is at least three-fifths of forty percent of that number of voters?  Yes 58%; No 42%
  • 1972 – I-44: An ACT to limit tax levies on real and personal property by the state, and other taxing districts, except port and power districts, to an aggregate of twenty (20) mills on assessed valuation (50% of true and fair value), without a vote of the people; allowing the legislature to allocate or reallocate up to twenty (20) mills among the various taxing districts. Yes 76%; No 24%
  • 1972 – SJR 1: Shall the state constitution be amended to replace the present forty mill limit upon those property taxes which are imposed without voter approval (in effect a limitation of two percent of the true and fair value of the taxable property) with a new provision under which the maximum allowable rate for such property taxes would be one percent of the true and fair value of the property? Yes 83%; No 17%
  • 1970 – HJR 42: Shall the state constitution be amended to reduce the maximum allowable rate of taxation against property to 1 percent of true and fair value in the absence of authorized excess levies, and to permit the legislature to tax income at a single rate without regard to this limitation or, after 1975, at a graduated rate if the voters in that year or thereafter approve the removal of the single rate limitation? Yes 32%; No 68%
  • 1968 – SJR 23: Shall the State constitution be amended to permit taxing districts, if authorized by the legislature, to submit propositions for property tax levies exceeding the forty-mill limit to their voters up to 24 months before the levy date, thereby permitting two consecutive annual excess levies to be approved at one election; and authorizing submission of a second proposition in any twelve-month period only if it is substituted for the excess levy previously approved for that year? Yes 39%; No 61%
  • 1966 – HJR 7: Shall Article VII of the state constitution be amended to authorize the legislature to grant relief from property taxes on real property owned and occupied as a residence by retired persons, subject to such restrictions and conditions as the legislature may establish, including but not limited to level of income and length of residence? Yes 76%; No 24%
  • 1962 – HJR 1: Shall the State Constitution be amended to permit city and town voters to authorize tax levies in excess of the 40-mill limit at a specified maximum rate for up to four years for capital outlay, if the proposition or propositions be approved by a three-fifths majority and the number of voters voting thereon constitutes not less than forty percent of the votes cast at the last preceding general election in such city or town? Yes 23% ; No 77%
  • 1958 – HJR 4: Shall the state constitution be amended to permit school district electors to authorize excess tax levies at a specified maximum rate for up to two years for operation and/or up to six years for capital outlay, if the proposition or propositions therefor shall be approved by a three-fifths majority, and the number of electors voting thereon constitutes not less than forty percentum of the votes cast at the last preceding general election in such district? Yes 38%; No 62%
  • 1944 – HJR 4: Proposed amendment to Article II of the Constitution, by adding a new section to be known as Section 40, limiting exclusively to highway purposes the use of motor vehicle license fees, excise taxes on motor fuels and other revenue intended for highway purposes only; providing for their payment into a special fund of the State Treasury; defining highway purposes; and excepting from its provisions certain other designated fees and taxes. Yes 69%; No 31%
  • 1934 – HJR 14: A resolution amending section 12 of Article XI of the constitution by providing that the legislature shall have no power to impose taxes upon counties, cities, towns or other municipal corporations, or upon the inhabitants or property thereof, for county, city, town or other municipal purposes, but by general law may limit such taxes and may supervise and control the valuing of property for local taxation and the administration of laws relating to such taxation, and may apportion state funds among counties, cities, towns and other municipal corporations. Yes 41%; No 59%
  • 1932 – I-64: An Act relating to the taxation of real and personal property and limiting the aggregate annual rate of levy thereon for general state, county, municipal and school district purposes to 40 mills. Yes 61%; No 39%


[Reprinted from the Washington Policy Center blog; photo credit: zacharmstrong]