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Income tax initiative: What was the Gates/Gregoire factor?

Income tax initiative:  What was the Gates/Gregoire factor?



Posted on November 3, 2010 at 7:57 AM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 3 at 8:05 AM

Gates and Gregoire: Did they help or hurt I-1098?

As a spokesman for the Initiative 1098 campaign, Bill Gates Sr. starred in one of the most memorable ads of the year, agreeing to be "dunked" by kids--the message being that it's OK to soak the rich to benefit education.

In a state that has turned down a state income tax several times over the decades, any spokesman faced an uphill battle.  But Gates dedicated several years and considerable effort to a political fight he believes was worth fighting.

In the end, did Gates' endorsement the initiative influence voters' decisions?  Our KING 5 poll found 17% of likely and actual voters felt Gates made them more likely to support I-1098; 27% less likely.  SurveyUSA found 55% said Gates had no influence on how they voted.

Late in the campaign, Governor Christine Gregoire announced that she supported I-1098--significant because she ran for governor in 2004 and 2008 saying she did not support a state income tax.  But given the state's budget situation, Gregoire said she backed this particular proposal.  We asked voters if Gregoire's decision would influence their vote.  SurveyUSA found 16% said her decision made it more likely that they'd support the initiative.  But 44% said, her support made it less likely that they'd support 1098.  About 40% said Gregoire's position had no influence on their decision.

Perhaps more significant than endorsements, was that voters saw the distinct possibility that the legislature could change the initiative after two years with a simple majority vote.  The initiative proposed a state income tax for individuals earning more than $200,000 and couples earning more than $400,000.  We asked voters how likely they thought it was, that the income tax would be expanded to other incomes in the future?  SurveyUSA found 62% said it was very likely, 18% said it was somewhat likely that the tax would be expanded.  Just 14% said it was not very likely, 5% said it was not at all likely that the tax would be expanded.

It was a difficult year to overcome that issue, as the legislature just suspended another initiative, I-960 (requiring a 2/3rds vote to pass a tax increase) earlier this year.  Perhaps the most telling number was the state legislature's job approval.  In our last poll, 21% told SurveyUSA they approved of the state legislature's performance, but 65% said they disapprove.