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Initiative goldrush: a record 77 filed (so far)

by David Ammons | May 13th, 2010

goldrishWashington’s initiative process is going gangbusters this year.  We’ve easily broken the previous record for most initiatives filed in a single year, with 77 filed already, eclipsing the 60 filed in 2003 and the 57 in 2008.

We could easily meet or beat the record for most initiatives making the ballot, too, since  well-heeled individuals and groups are sponsoring some of these measures and presumably can afford to hire paid signature-gatherers in heavy enough numbers to make the ballot.  It takes 241,153 valid signatures, submitted by July 2.

In the first year of “direct democracy” in Washington, 1914, there were seven initiatives on the ballot, including a successful Prohibition measure.  That remains the record so far. Six initiatives were on the 2000 ballot, including education spending mandates and charter schools. But the average is just a couple of initiatives, plus the occasional constitutional amendment and referendum.

And now, 2010.  State Election Director Nick Handy marvels at the “unprecedented level of activity,” both in the sheer volume of filings and the large number of serious, well-financed efforts to get on the ballot.  He notes that the Legislature already has placed three measures on the ballot:

  • HJR 4220, known as the Lakewood Police Officers Memorial Act” would amend the state constitution on bail requirements for judges.
  • SJR 8225 would amend the state constitution relating to debt limits for the state.
  • Referendum Bill 52 would create green energy construction projects.

Handy notes that the range of initiative subjects is quite diverse, including:

  • A plan to legalize pot (I-1068).
  • I-1077 by Bill Gates Sr. and others to create an income tax on high-wage earners and reduce other taxes.
  • Tim Eyman’s effort (I-1053) to restore the supermajority vote requirement in Olympia for taxes.
  • Efforts by Eyman and others to rollback taxes recently approved by the Legislature. The two latest measures, not yet assigned numbers, deal with the pop tax, candy and other food-and-beverage taxes.
  • A plan by the homebuilders (I-1082) to allow private insurance companies to offer worker’s compensation insurance
  • Efforts to privatize liquor sales.

Handy says the heavy interest could spur turnout in this midterm election:

“These are all hot button topics for Washington voters.  If these measures make the ballot, this will drive turnout in the mid-term elections this fall, which already appear likely to draw high voter interest.

If five or six initiatives submit the requisite signatures, the State Elections Division will have a busy and expensive summer, especially if any of the petitions require 100 percent checks.

“One concern we have is the short period of time these petitions will be on the streets.  Many of the hottest initiatives are just hitting the streets in May so the window for gathering signatures is very short.  That can increase the likelihood that insufficient signatures will be submitted for a random check.

“The Elections Division can do a random check on an initiative in about a week.  A 100 percent check can take six to eight weeks even running double shifts each day.”

2 Responses to “Initiative goldrush: a record 77 filed (so far)”

  1. Dan Lambert says:

    Initiative 1077, now labeled 1098, is based on the federal adjusted growth income (AGI) model. We are talking about instituting a state income tax and as yet we do not know exactly how income items affecting agriculture would be considered. Exemptions could be gradually eliminated once we are nested into a state income tax. Further, specific deductions could be disallowed when certain income thresholds are exceeded, potentially causing some of our farms to become insolvent.

    There are substantially far more ways for our farmers to become adversely effected financially than a small business that paints buildings or fixes your car. Working farms today are more complicated than ever before with sometimes there being several generations of a farm family involved, for example. Dealing with the ubiquitous vagaries of weather, markets, crop pests, and multiple governmental agencies are not usually encountered by non-farm businesses, and certainly not in spades.

    I am very sorry Washington State, one of the many in this democratic republic, is experiencing economic distress. We currently have high unemployment, lack of health coverage and education funding is being reduced. However, we cannot expect to solve these problems at the expense of agriculture; the main revenue source in this state. A high percentage of our farmers also are not able to afford adequate medical insurance, send their children to college and have to supplement their incomes with part-time jobs while working full-time.

    Farming full-time has become very expensive with operating costs for fuel, fertilizer, property taxes, equipment repairs and payments, and other inputs easily exceeding hundreds of thousands of dollars annually. A farm couple, filing jointly or separately, can earn over the annual income threshold cited in I-1098 and still not be able to live on their net income. Many farm families have to borrow against their equity position every year for operating expenses and may not recover this expense. The shortage is added to their debt load. When a good year does finally come along and they are able to pay down some of their debt, a few times in their lives, we are asking them to give up this hard-earned money because they are classified as “high earners”.

    While I applaud the sponsors of I-1098, including Mr. Gates Sr., for trying to increase the Physical Quality of Life Index for the citizens of Washington State we should also be cognizant that it is not wise to unduly burden any one sector of our state economy. Especially one that already provides a substantial amount of tax income to our rural municipalities and school districts.

    Additionally, the state constitution would have to be changed in order for the initiative to be legally enforceable. As it stands, I will vote No on the initiative if it is presented on the Fall ballot and vigorously encourage others to oppose it as well.

  2. David K says:

    Describing I-1068 as “a plan to legalize pot” does not seem accurate to me. I-1068 is about repealing unjust marijuana related laws which criminalize responsible conduct by adults. This is an important difference of wording which conveys a very different meaning to voters. Perhaps I’d take less notice of this if the Ballot Measure Summary did not omit reference to the fifth paragraph of the Statement of purpose and the fact public safety related laws which specifically or inclusively relate to marijuana are plentifully scattered throughout the RCW, though not in the sections amended. Possibly this omission is technically correct for the very reason I-1068 doesn’t remove public safety laws but it is misleading to voters and I-1068 does specifically state it is to repeal marijuana related penalties “without impacting existing laws proscribing dangerous activities while under the influence of marijuana.”

    (5) The People intend to remove all existing civil and criminal penalties for adults eighteen years of age or older who cultivate, possess, transport, sell, or use marijuana, without impacting existing laws proscribing dangerous activities while under the influence of marijuana or certain conduct that exposes younger persons to marijuana.

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