For some time now I have sensed that our legislators in Olympia don’t care too much for our constitutional right to citizen initiatives that is independent from the legislature and grants us the right to place limits upon their actions. It is written in our constitution,
“the people reserve to themselves the power to propose bills, laws, and to enact or reject the same at the polls, independent of the legislature, and also reserve power, at their own option, to approve or reject at the polls any act, item, section, or part of any bill, act, or law passed by the legislature. (Article II Section 1)”
We have seen several times now where unions and legislators, disagreeing with a citizen initiative voted in by large majorities of the voters end up challenged in court or cast aside by decree of the governor after a specified period.
We also see ourselves mired in this ongoing “Great Recession” with no end in sight and some citizen initiatives voted in that require funding that the legislators are unable to find funds for, given their propensity to spend tax dollars unwisely.
I was a little surprised to see a constitutional amendment proposed, SJR 8218 that adds to the wording in our constitution regarding our right to citizen initiatives,
“No initiative may be placed on the ballot if it is determined by the secretary of state that the initiative fails to provide a new or enhanced revenue source to pay for any increase in state obligations or duties that are created by the initiative. The office of the governor, or a subdivision thereof, in consultation with the secretary of state, the attorney general, and any other appropriate state or local agency, shall prepare a fiscal impact statement for an initiative. A fiscal impact statement must describe any projected increase or decrease in revenues, costs, expenditures, or indebtedness that the state or local governments will experience if the ballot measure were approved by state voters. A fiscal impact statement must indicate by fiscal year the impact for the remainder of the biennium in which the bill or resolution will first take effect as well as a cumulative forecast of the fiscal impact for the succeeding four fiscal years.”
I found it even more surprising that the bill is sponsored more by Republicans than Democrats, 6 GOP to 2 Dems. Why it surprises me is that so far, it has been primarily Democrat legislators who seem to challenge voter approved initiatives while the Republicans have been overall more supportive of our citizen rights.
Not having had the chance to discuss this with any of the Republicans sponsoring it, including our own SW Washington 17th Legislative District Senator Don Benton, I sought and found that the intent appears to be an effort to ward off future initiatives, such as the recently approved I-1163, that would require $18 Million in new spending to train care givers and the earlier “I-728 that required new spending to reduce student-to-teacher ratios in K-12 classrooms, and I-732, that granted yearly cost of living pay raises for K-12 employees” when there is no available funding for the measures.
The Olympian’s Brad Shannon informs us that the effort “would require citizen initiatives to identify a new source of money to cover any new costs they create,” and quotes co-author of the proposal Republican Dan Swecker, “I think if folks are going to propose new programs they ought to come up with new money. The most recent one was [Initiative] 1163, and actually that’s relatively small compared to some of the other ones. Here were are in position to cut money for the vulnerable and disabled, and then we turn around and pay for more training. I don’t think that’s right.”
Swecker teamed with Tacoma Democrat Senator Debbie Regala to author the proposal. Swecker also said, “Senate Republican Leader Mike Hewitt supports it and Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown told him she would sign on in January.”
Governor Gregoire replied to questions about the proposal that she would “probably vote for it.”
Tim Eyeman, well known for authoring several citizen initiatives, mostly directed at reining in out of control spending opposes the proposal saying, “The problem down in Olympia is not the initiative process. The problem is that they don’t prioritize spending.”
Adam Glickman, a spokesman for the SEIU that largely was behind I-1163 indicated support for the proposal, “as long as they had similar restrictions for measures cutting the budget.” Glickman says, “We’d be open to considering a change in the initiative process that required any initiatives to ultimately be budget neutral.”
Therein lays a large part of my skepticism of this proposed amendment. Many citizen initiatives are designed to not be “budget neutral,” but to cut the budget and force reductions in spending. We have supported initiatives to raise the bar on raising taxes and force the legislature to “live within their means,” as we taxpayers have to do.
The legislature continually shows their reluctance to do so as we see the legislature passing tax increases such as 49th Legislative District Democrat Representative Jim Moeller’s ill fated candy tax that was overturned by a citizen initiative, I-1107 in 2010.
As I read the proposed wording of the new proposed amendment, our effort to overturn such a ridiculous tax as Moeller’s, which only applied to some candy products and was seen largely as a nightmare for business, might not have been able to make the ballot, even with more than enough signatures gathered on petitions.
While I understand and somewhat concur with the effort, I also see a very distinct probability of this amendment backfiring on Republicans efforts to reign in out of control spending and reduce taxes to a reasonable level we in the struggling middle class can live with. Democrats would have a much easier time opposing our efforts to rein them in and have the support of the Secretary of State and the Office of Financial Management, who could easily claim pulling back on the reins of overspending would “cost too much.”
Another question I have pertains to the Office of Financial Management, who already prepares cost estimates for ballot measures and legislation. Would such an amendment cause spending on preparing these extra cost estimates to actually increase, adding more of a burden on the office workers?
Dan Swecker believes such an amendment “would help people understand the costs if the fund source were on the ballot with them.” But, even he admits, “The real question is whether people connect the dots,” indicating what many of us already know, many voters vote by emotion, relying on advertising and not actually reading or understanding initiatives.
The amendment requires a 2/3 majority approval on both the House and Senate, then approval by a vote on the ballot in order to become law. We can expect to see a lot of money thrown from both supporters and opponents should this make it through the legislature.
Our own Columbian seems to be mum on this proposal so far.
Regardless, I retain strong skepticism on this measure and remain very surprised to see such strong support from Republicans, who just may be being played by the Democrats once again.
Some clarification from any of the Republicans supporting this would be appreciated.