Attorney general plans to appeal spending ruling
By Seattle Times staff
OLYMPIA — The state Attorney General's Office plans to appeal a recent Snohomish County judge's ruling that the Legislature violated the voter-approved Initiative 601 spending limit last year.
I-601, approved by voters in 1993, set a state spending limit based on a three-year average growth in population and inflation. It also required voter approval to raise taxes above that limit.
Superior Court Judge James Allendoerfer in Everett ruled March 17 that lawmakers violated the limit by manipulating the state budget to avoid having voters consider $250 million in tax increases.
Allendoerfer said voters must have their say if the state wants to continue collecting increased taxes on cigarettes, alcohol and self-service laundries, among other things.
The taxes were raised last year to help balance the state's $26 billion, two-year budget. Cigarette taxes went up 60 cents a pack, and hard-liquor taxes rose $1.33 per liter.
In 2000, the Legislature approved a loophole that allows the limit to be raised by transferring money among different state accounts.
The Legislature did something like that last year, according to the plaintiffs, to raise the limit by about $250 million.
The lawsuit was filed last year by several groups including the Evergreen Freedom Foundation and the Building Industry Association of Washington.
In his ruling, Allendoerfer said lawmakers and state officials exploited the loophole with the purpose of artificially increasing the limit, and that a series of money transfers made by the Legislature "trumps the intent and spirit of 601."
The ruling has not taken effect yet, and the Attorney General's Office is expected to ask for a stay of the decision. That would allow the state to continue collecting the taxes while the case is in court.
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company
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