Author: Sanders, Eli
Date published: June 17, 2010
Journal code: STRR
Say what you will about Washington State allowing its citizens to legislate by initiative, but it's a fact of life-and a more popular fact of life than ever before. A record 79 initiatives have been filed so far this year, their texts seething with voter-created cries for revenge on Olympia, reform for the state, and, in a few cases, psychological help.
Take, for example, proposed Initiative 1076, which would "repeal all laws adopted in 2010." How do you like that, Olympia lawmakers? It's unlikely to get on the ballot, but its author's frustration with state legislators is unmistakably clear. So is the ire in I-1103, which would strip state legislators of pay and benefits during extended sessions- presumably to spur them to finish their jobs faster next time. Like I-1076, this measure shows no signs of being on track to collect the necessary 241,153 valid signatures by the July 2 deadline required to make the November ballot. Neither does I-1069, which "would require the Washington State Seal to depict a tapeworm attached to a taxpayer's intestine, encircled by the words: Committed to sucking the life blood out of each and every taxpayer."
But while some measures are crazy-hey there, tapeworm-some of the voter anger makes sense. For instance, Washington's tax structure has long been criticized for being overly burdensome on small businesses and folks who don't make much money. Did the state fix the problem this year as it focused on the budget for four months straight (years after the Gates Commission recommended that lawmakers "distribute the burden of taxation across taxpayers in a way that is considered fair and equitable")? Nope. Instead, it passed a hodgepodge of candy and soda taxes that don't solve the tax problems and make more people pissed at Olympia.
Responding to that sort of inaction, there are a number of initiatives (both levelheaded and enraged) that have a realistic shot at getting on the ballot and come with a more interesting-if sometimes scary-agenda behind them. Here's everything you need to know about what those initiatives are pushing and who's behind them.
The more , the more likely to make the ballot.
This Tim Eyman initiative seeks to overturn the state legislature's decision to suspend a previous Eyman initiative. Hang on. It becomes clearer with some history: In 2007, voters passed Eyman's I-960, which required a two-thirds legislative majority for any tax increases. That law couldn't be modified for two years. So this past winter, the Democrats who control the legislature voted to suspend I-960 to deal with the state's recession-induced $2.6 billion shortfall. But no one likes tax increases, even necessary ones, and so Eyman's new effort would remandate the nearly impossible two-thirds majority for tax increases. It has about $300,000 in donations from oil companies, banks, and other industries that have been affected by the new tax increases-and don't want to see any more.
Bill Gates Sr. is pissed about taxes and the state legislature, too, but he's coming from a much different direction (see Gates Commission above). He wishes lawmakers could muster the courage to pass a Washington income tax in order to fix the injustice of our state's overreliance on sales taxes, which regressively harm the poor more than the rich. "A more wide-ranging, more thoughtful legislature is what we really need," Gates told The Stranger in April, explaining that while he finds the initiative process generally "unattractive," he's willing to use it to accomplish his aim of instituting an income tax on individuals earning more than $200,000 a year. Gates has put $50,000 of his own money behind the effort and has gathered a total of about $600,000 so far from health-care unions (which stand to benefit from more state revenue being available for spending on health care), familiar donors with names like Alhadeff and Bridge, and even one journalist, Michael Kinsley, who put in $5,000.
I-1086, I-1087, and I-1107
Not satisfied with simply trying to reinstate the two-thirds-majority rule, Eyman is also trying to repeal some of the taxes the legislature passed this year in order keep basic state services-like health care for the poor and education funding-from being gutted. His I-1086 takes on the legislature's tax on beer, while his I-1087 takes on the legislature's tax on soda. That last one has some company; I-1107 also seeks to torpedo the new soda tax, while also repealing new taxes on candy and bottled water. It's backed by the soda lobby, aka the American Beverage Association, to the tune of over $1 million.
I-1100 and I-1105
Both of these initiatives seek to do away with the state's monopoly on the sale of hard alcohol, which sounds like a great idea- and probably is, in theory. Vodka in grocery stores. Hooray! I-1100 is backed mainly by Costco, which has put in more than $500,000 for obvious reasons; it stands to make a killing on booze sales if this thing passes. I-1105 is backed by Washington Citizens for Liquor Reform-a group of people who don't seem to be actual Washington citizens (the two contributors to its $400,000 war chest are both out-of-state LLCs). Spokesperson Charla Neuman objects to this characterization: "I'm a citizen," she said. "Not everyone who's part of the coalition has to fork over dough. We like people without money, too." Whatever the case, I-1105 has similar aims to I-1100. One problem: Both of these initiatives have the potential to fundamentally alter not just where booze is sold but also the way that taxes on booze are collected. For example, I-1105 directs that the current liquor taxes be ended and then later reinstituted once the liquor control board and the legislature rejigger the tax system to match the new liquorvendor reality. Now imagine what happens if Eyman's I-1053 passes and one of these liquor-tax-altering initiatives passes. Are we really ever going to find a two-thirds legislative majority for reinstituting booze taxes? Or is the state going to permanently lose a chunk of its liquor sales and tax revenue- currently around $330 million a year-and the social services and public projects that go along with that? "Well," said Neuman. "That's a question I have not yet been asked."
This initiative-hoping to capitalize on the same kind of anti-illegal-immigrant sentiment that led to Arizona's draconian new law requiring police to stop anyone suspected of being in the country illegally-seeks to deny driver's licenses, lottery winnings, and other state benefits to illegal immigrants. Not even the state Republican Party will touch this thing, and a group called Respect Washington has raised about $25,000 to fight it. If it gets on the ballot. Which is a big if, considering its supporters haven't reported putting any money at all into their effort.
This effort to decriminalize pot statewide is pretty much dead already. It went down in bitter, bitter flames in early June when I-1068's spokesman and coauthor, Philip Dawdy, issued a furious press release railing against the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) for "romancing" his group and then not sending any money, and berating the "armchair liberals" at the ACLU for not supporting him either. "Politics in this state stink," said Dawdy. "Marijuana smells better. It's disappointing that SEIU and others have walked away from us, but this campaign will fight on because the issue is simply too important." March on, stoners. And better luck next time.