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I-695 supporters get it. Do the lawmakers?
"Of all the arguments being put forward to rationalize the success of Initiative 695, the hardest to stomach is that the voters simply didn't get it.They got it just fine. What remains to be seen is whether the lawmakers get it.The overwhelming margin by which the controversial tax reduction measure was approved last November sent an unmistakable message to the ruling class in Olympia that taxpayers want government that's a lot less expensive - or at least more efficient. And they're prepared to sacrifice a certain level of public service in return.If they were a little vague on the specifics of which programs to cut, that's understandable.For one thing, 695 opponents in many cases clouded the issue by exaggerating how severe the cutbacks would be. More importantly, people have their own lives to lead. They're busy raising their children and working two jobs to produce the incomes lawmakers are so eager to tax. They have neither the time nor the inclination to become policy wonks, so they elect representatives to do the job for them.It's up to the politicians and bureaucrats to decide how to live within the limits the voters establish, not the other way around. Instead of promising all manner of goodies now and finding a way to pay for them later, I-695 forces our elected representatives to know ahead of time what their budget constraints are and whether a program is affordable.If not, they'll have to stand before their constitutents and say so. And presumably, they'll have to explain what the money is being spent on instead. What a concept.To anyone who suggests I-695 has already proved a failure, I would ask, How do we know yet? The amount of money lost as a result of the limitations imposed on Motor Vehicle Excise Taxes amounts to a paltry 2 percent of all state revenues. If the cutbacks were spread out over the entire budget, they'd hardly be noticed.But that hasn't happened yet. Instead, the relative handful of highly visible local programs deriving significant portions of their yearly operating budgets from MVET revenues are being asked to cover virtually the entire shortfall themselves. But that will change. It may take a year or two, but if we stand our ground lawmakers will eventually stop worrying about punishing the taxpayers for voting themselves a miniscule amount of relief and get down to the serious business of restructuring the state's spending priorities so that essential services are adequately funded while waste and pork are reduced. Just as the framers of Initiative 695 intended.What we're seeing played out in the legislature now is simply the second act in the drama. If public dissatisfaction over the reduction of transportation and health programs at the local level turns out to be persuasive, the representatives will have to find fat elsewhere in the state budget to cut.Or it could turn out we're able to get along just fine without those things. The point is, we just don't know yet. The process of stanching the flow of tax dollars to the legislature has only just begun, and the politicians are still reeling from the shock of being told they have to start making tough - and sometimes unpopular - budget choices instead of continuing to play Santa Claus with other people's money.Eventually they'll learn to live with it - if we let them."