Lawmakers must follow spirit of I-960 after budget crisis

If there are real problems with the voter-approved law, then changes should be made after thoughtful, open debate.

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The initiative process is a lousy way to make law or establish public policy. Initiatives are generally too narrowly drawn, have unintended consequences and can do more harm than good.

But the people have the right to seek a change in the law or overturn policies through the initiative process when they don't feel their elected officials are acting in their behalf.

Still, the changes enacted by the people at the ballot box must be constitutional and reasonable. This is why the Legislature has the power, as granted by the state constitution, to amend or repeal an initiative by a two-thirds majority in the first two years after approval. After that, it takes only a simple majority.

Since 1952, lawmakers have amended or repealed more than 30 initiatives. Most of the changes have been made without much of a public fuss.

But folks are irked about the changes lawmakers have made to Initiative 960, which mandates taxes or fees can only be increased by a two-thirds majority of the Legislature.

Frankly, we agree the people have reason to be miffed.

We didn't support passage of I-960. We urged voters in 2007 to reject I-960 because it would too tightly constrain the ability of the Legislature to approve tax and fee increases. In addition, the measure mandates expensive, non-binding advisory elections.

We said at the time that the voters elect officials to use their good judgment -- in concert with public input -- to make the right decisions in setting government policy. That includes tax policy.

The Legislature, which is controlled by Democrats, has used the current budget crisis to dismantle I-960 because it essentially blocks tax increases without support from Republicans.

The changes to I-960 are temporary, until the next two-year budget cycle. We give credit to lawmakers for not eliminating I-960.

Nevertheless, it won't be as politically difficult to suspend I-960 next time -- and we are concerned there will be a next time and a time after that. I-960 is now made of straw.

That's not what the people intended.

Lawmakers don't have to agree with this initiative, but they should nevertheless follow the spirit of the law. If there are serious flaws or unintended consequences, then legislators should make fixes through thoughtful, open debate.

A crisis is simply not the time to gut a voter-approved law.

When this crisis passes lawmakers should take a long, hard look at I-960 to determine what aspects of the current law would be workable and effective.

But simply suspending it on a whim, which we fear will occur, is not acceptable.

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