Washington voters have already started mailing in ballots—but for the procrastinators out there, it's not too late to brush up on the November general election advisory vote. Here's everything you need to know about Advisory Vote 19 before casting your ballot. 

What’s an advisory vote anyway?

Unlike initiatives and propositions, the results of an advisory vote do not actually change the law. It's non-binding and simply tells state elected officials how voters feel about a tax increase.

Advisory votes began with Initiative 960, which voters approved in 2007; the measure required that if the state Legislature ever raises taxes, imposes new fees, or increases current fees without approval by the public, that law would appear on the ballot as an advisory vote. 

The advisory vote would “at least give the Legislature the views of the voters and give the voters information about the bill increasing taxes,” according to I-960. While the initiative was later repealed as unconstitutional—part of it also mandated a two-thirds supermajority vote in the Legislature for any tax increase—the small piece about advisory votes remains.

What's the tax all about?

Advisory Vote 19 asks voters whether they think the state Legislature should “repeal” or “maintain” a newly approved tax on those who are using pipelines to import oil and petroleum products into Washington.

State legislators approved Senate Bill 6269 in March. The law calls for an oil response tax of 1 cent per barrel of oil and an administration tax of 5 cents per barrel. That money will go to the Department of Ecology to address a funding gap and help state regulators prevent oil spills. The administration and response taxes are estimated to generate more than $12 million and $1 million over the course of 10 years, respectively.

Pipelines are a common method of oil transport that, unlike other methods like rails and tank vessels, was free of the administrative and response taxes in Washington until Senate Bill 6269 came into full effect.  SB 6269 expands the oil spill response and administration taxes to include oil that is transported by pipeline, which according to the bill generates “a sizeable oil spill risk.” 

Oil spills pose risks to the surrounding areas environment, human health, economy, and tribal, cultural, and historical resources. SB 6269 will now require pipeline taxpayers to also provide contingency plans on minimizing harm in the case of an oil spill. 

Who supported this tax?

SB 6269 passed through the state Senate with a 42-7 vote, the House with a 62-35 vote.

The bill was sponsored by a group of 14 Democrats, including Seattle state senators Reuven Carlyle, Jamie Pedersen, Bob Hasegawa, David Frockt, and Rebecca Saldaña. 

The Seattle Times, The News Tribune, and The Stranger all recommended that voters “maintain” the tax in their 2018 endorsements.

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