Posted by: sweeneyblog | October 17, 2013

What the Heck is Substitute Senate Bill 5444?

Looking for simple explanations for the rest of your ballot? Check out my Voter’s Guide here.

There you are, making your way through your ballot, and you come across something weird. Substitute Senate Bill 5444? The description doesn’t help and scanning down, you see a whole slew of these: Senate Bill 5627, Engrossed Substitute House Bill 1846, Second Engrossed Second Substitute House Bill 1971, Engrossed House Bill 2075. What do they mean?

What are these "Advisory Votes" anyway?

What are these “Advisory Votes” anyway?

These “Advisory Votes” are the result of a procedural change forced by a Tim Eyman initiative a few years back. Whenever the state legislature wants to increase tax revenues, whether it is a minor tweak or a major change, they need to put it to a vote of the people. That is what we are discussing here – changes to our tax code. The legislature (including our Democratic House and our Republican Senate) passed all these measures and now we get the opportunity to “maintain” their decision or “repeal” it.

After reviewing them all, my recommendation is to “maintain” all of them. They are not major changes and they are mostly just closing tax loopholes that were being abused. Below is a more detailed examination:

Substitute Senate Bill 5444: This bill closes a tax exemption for people who rent publicly owned property. Right now, there are several private companies that rent land from ports, cities, counties and the state. These people were getting a tax write-off for choosing to rent from the government rather than the private sector. Removing this incentive levels the playing field for private property companies and returns some revenue to the state coffers. It had broad bipartisan support and is a pretty common sense fix. Vote maintained.

Senate Bill 5627: This is one of those housekeeping measures the legislature would normally handle without any trouble, but now you have to vote on it. In the past, we taxed air carriers through a property tax measure, but since the amount of property required for air carriers varies greatly, it was not an effective tool. They are shifting to an excise tax to make it more consistent. Vote maintained.

Engrossed Substitute House Bill 1846: This bill allows insurance companies in Washington state to offer dental coverage for children. Because it involves how we spend the Insurance Premium tax, we need to vote on it . . . but seriously, dental coverage for children! Vote maintained.

Second Engrossed Second Substitute House Bill 1971: This is another housekeeping measure having to do with phones. As most of our phone legislation, including tax legislation, was written in the 1990s – it was long past time for an update. This measure added the 911 tax to prepaid cellphones and standardized many of the regulations across different devices. Common sense. Vote maintained.

Engrossed House Bill 2075: This was the final patch to balance the state budget this year – it clarifies how the estate tax is supposed to be applied (there were a few legal issues with previous interpretations) and makes sure it covers certain types of property transfers. It is not an expansion and the money goes to education. Vote maintained.

That’s it for the confusing material on the ballot. I’ll be rolling out my endorsements on Saturday so stay tuned for the rest of the ballot.

As always, if you find my material helpful or useful, you can throw me a few bucks in my digital tip jar here. Thank you!



  1. SB 5444. At first I was confused by “These people where getting a tax right off…” until I realized you meant tax write-off.

    • Thank you! I’ll fix that right away!

  2. The ever-vigilant RS is on the case! You just pried a mess ‘o’ “yea” votes from me.

  3. Riley, thanks for this. I’ve broadcast it to all the voters I know. It was a much needed clarification.

  4. Thanks so much Riley! We were TOTALLY confused on these!

  5. As always, Riley, you continue to impress me with your journalism. Thank you for this public service.

  6. […] Votes: I published a whole article about this earlier in the week, so check it out for the details but the end result is the same. Vote “maintained” for […]

  7. […] Votes: Riley published a whole article about this earlier in the week, so check it out for the details but the end result is the same. Vote “maintained” for all of […]

  8. 1846 says nothing about it being for dental insurance for children, only that the premium tax to some insurance has been extended for pediatric oral services, resulting in an amount that couldn’t be calculated is added to government spending. What is this; your own personal views on these issues??!

    • Pediatric Oral Services = children’s dental service. That’s literally what it means. I’m just translating it into more common language.

  9. Thank-you. Who wrote these ‘explanations’ in the first place?

    • I wrote them – that’s why it is my name at the top of the website, it is my blog.

  10. Good job on simplifying verr muddy language

  11. Thank you for your explanations. However, I am still confused with 5444 in that it says the legislature “eliminated” the tax, therefore to agree with their decision you mark “maintain” which according to my voter’s pamphlet “means you favor the tax increase”. Does “maintain” actually mean you agree with what the legislature decided, as you mentioned above. That is how I read it and yet the wording is confusing.

    • It is tricky – Maintained means that we eliminate the tax break . . . which counts as a tax increase because those people will no longer be receiving the tax break. So yes, I agree with the legislature in maintaining their decision.

  12. Thank you for this information!! It really helped me understand what I was voting on. Thank you again!

  13. Thank you for making clear the confusing ballot explanations.

  14. Thank you for this information. I’m still stuck on one thing though. In the example of Bill 5444 a tax credit is eliminated meaning that more taxes should be paid, then how does this cost the government $2 million?

    • By not collecting those taxes – we are missing out on $2 million in state revenue. A vote to maintain would eliminate the tax break . . . meaning the state would collect the $2 million.

  15. Googled one of these Advisory Votes and your blog came up. Glad I found it! Thanks for the concise and common sense breakdowns. I hope more folks find your site…

    • I’m glad it helped! Feel free to email it or facebook if you think it will be useful.

  16. Why can’t we get somone in the Secretary of State’s office who can actually write something that we can make sense of…when you explain it; it actaully makes sense and is easy to mark the ballot intelligently. Makes you wonder about the government’s ability to communicate. The voter’s pamphlet is like this every year. Why can’t they put the candidates & the issues that pertain to all voters in one section and the ones that are for geographic isssues like the city of Renton ALL IN ONE SECTION? I better stop there…

  17. Jeez. The voter’s pamphlet could have made these votes WAAAY easier to understand.

  18. Thanks for clarification here but I think you might be a-little too simplistic and paint some of these issues with a broad brush as “tax incentives” or write offs as you put it are often used as incentives to get business to do things that are not necessarily in their best interest but benefit the greater good. An often missed aspect of the carrot and stick of much of our tax laws.

  19. how many people just fill in one rectangle and don’t really know who they are voting for or what they are voting for? or just don’t vote! take that right away and you’ll hear them scream, hopefully. I like it when people explain the meaning of the bull shit that appears on our ballots. thankz

  20. Why would we want to vote to maintain taxes we never had a choice to vote on in the first place?
    I see that this additional tax revenue goes to funding our government… Quite honestly, when I consider the states spending I can’t help to think of our lack-of-privacy heavy-surveillance militarized-police state. I don’t want funding to go toward an out of control government that lacks respect for our privacy and trades our freedom for an illusion of security. With education the only thing I find criminal is giving money to a public education system that does not produce and progressively gets worse. How will throwing money at that help solve any problems? You can argue about updates and technology but sixth graders in the mid nineteenth century were required to pass competency tests that most college graduates today couldn’t. Seems to me that we keep looking to an unproductive government for answers it can’t produce and won’t because there’s no competition in education to challenge what’s become the norm. Unfortunately the norm is a dumbed down youth that lacks the ability to think freely and question what they’re taught.
    No, I’m not voting for “fairness” because the thinking there is backwards. We’re losing our freedom to go about our business freely in a guise of equality. If those taxes weren’t in place how could there be loop holes?
    If you haven’t noticed the economy then take a closer look… government spending is not the answer. Put that money in our hands! We’re the producers! We’re the educators! We’re the job producers! We’re the inventors! We’re the people who are capable of prosperity!

    • Boy, that’s a big chunk there to chew. Let me address a few points – we are talking about Washington State government here, which has little to nothing to do with the “heavy militarized police state”. What they do have involvement in is education – and over the last ten years we have cut the state funding for our public schools by more than 60% – laying off the very teachers we need to bring our students up to standard. While I agree there could definitely be some reforms towards more critical thinking in the classroom, right now they are hurting to just keep their doors open. That’s why I continue to vote to keep funding in our schools.

      • When I talk about the military’s police I’m talking about the Bellingham PD dressing in fatigues and doing practice missions in full military gear with night vision downtown on the river with big fancy militarized RV’s. When I talk about the surveillance Seattle is at the top of the game! Who’s paying for that, the license plate scanners, facial and vocal recognition, etc… That makes me even more concerned if someone in an office in DC is in control of those decisions rather than the people of this state. I’d rather see communities come together over their education concerns for their children rather than a one-size-fits-all program that doesn’t work. Frankly, I think we’re looking at this incorrectly and the wrong people are in charge. Get government out of education and put us locals in and we’ll figure this out.

  21. Please explain why they provide the Cost Projections and no other information on projected revenue? Or comparison to current equal legislation costs? It seems as if they want us to vote on bills with basically no information to understand them. Correct?

    • Yes – this was a provision of the Tim Eyman initiative that required these advisory votes. Basically, he required that the language be as loaded as possible.

  22. I guess the only positive affect of these bills is that it puts in front of the voter that our elected representatives are actually doing something. However, all of this is already public record.

    I would much rather see a forum from our legislatures defending why they voted the way they did.

    But there is no way to decide if I agree how the legislature voted based on 20-30 words.

    In Clark County, we have 6 additional advisory votes, 5 are for the I-5/CRC and other bridge proposals. At least there is some comment in the voter guide about them. But again, it’s all non-binding. I doubt the Commissioners will even read the results. But it will be interesting to see how they wind up voting.

    All this had done is make me waist more time on these useless advisory votes instead of actually studying the actual candidates.

  23. So well put! Love your site/blog!

    • Thank you! I’m glad it helps!

  24. […] here), or spending the time to dig deep into issues (our two year long coverage of the new jail or analysis of obscure ballot measures), we are constantly growing. Over the last three months, I’ve been interviewing some of my […]

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