Washington State Steps Into New Tax Territory

WASHINGTON State voters have narrowly passed a tax-limitation measure in the Nov. 2 election. So narrowly, in fact, that it still isn't official; enough absentee ballots are not counted or returned to defeat Initiative 601.

``The voters of this state sent us a message that they want state government to be as efficient as possible,'' Gov. Mike Lowry (D) said last week. His approval of $1 billion in tax hikes earlier this year fueled the antitax cause. Voters rejected another measure that would have rolled back those taxes.

Initiative 601, passing by 50.8 percent to 49.2 percent, limits increases in state spending to the rate of population growth and inflation. Future tax changes, within this limit, must be approved by a two-thirds ``supermajority'' in the Legislature. Raising taxes above the spending limit must be put to the voting public for approval.

Critics worry that the measure leave the state without enough money to educate a school-age population that is rising faster than the overall population. Also, they say the simultaneous passage of Initiative 593, mandating life imprisonment for three-time violent offenders, will cause prison spending to surge.

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