As WA lawmakers prepare to open their session on Monday, the people’s process of writing laws by initiative got its start Friday.
By mid-afternoon, 24 proposals were filed with the Secretary of State’s Elections Division, including 13 from initiative activist Tim Eyman. His measures deal with making it tougher to raise taxes in Olympia, bringing back $30 car tabs, express lane tolls, and other issues.
Kurt Ludden of Seattle filed seven initiatives, dealing with medical marijuana, and the initiative process. Other sponsors submitted measures dealing with a single-payer health insurance system for Washington, grandparents’ visitation rights, and faculty carrying handguns.
The process of filing is easy — pay a $5 filing fee and submit the proposed wording. History shows, however, that usually only a few actually make the ballot. It takes 246,372 valid signatures of registered Washington voters — and the Elections Division recommends bringing in at least 325k to cover duplicate and invalid signatures. The deadline this year is July 8.
Initiatives are sent to the state code reviser for review as to form, and then on to the attorney general for a ballot title. Ballot titles can be challenges by sponsors or foes in court. After all that, it is up to sponsors whether to actually print up 20,000 or more actual petition sheets for signature collection. Many sponsors do not take that final step, and many do not gather enough signatures to qualify.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Kim Wyman has provisionally certified two initiatives to the Legislature as the Elections Division begins the signature-verification process. They are I-732, dealing with carbon taxes, and I-735, petitioning for a constitutional amendment overturning the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision on campaign fundraising.
Assistant Secretary of State Mark Neary certifies I-1366 and I-1401.
Two initiatives, one dealing with taxes and the other with endangered animals, officially have the green light to go onto the General Election ballot this fall. Assistant Secretary of State Mark Neary Thursday certified that Initiative 1366 and I-1401 both have enough valid signatures to be placed on the statewide ballot.
I-1366, sponsored by initiative activist Tim Eyman, would make it harder for the Legislature to raise taxes. I-1401, backed by Paul Allen, aims to crack down on trafficking of endangered species and parts.
State Elections Division crews completed scrutiny of voter signatures on a random sampling of the I-1366 petitions and showed that sponsors submitted more than enough names to qualify for a state vote.
Secretary of State Kim Wyman applauded the continuing citizen interest in “direct democracy” via the ballot box:
“About 700,000 people from all over the state with various political views took part in gaining ballot access for the two 2015 initiatives. Ballot measures always seem to generate voter turnout and this year, with no statewide or congressional races, this is an important factor in generating interest.”
To earn a ballot spot takes 246,372 valid signatures of registered Washington voters – 8 percent of the total votes cast in the last governor’s election. I-1366 sponsors turned in (more…)
We’re getting lots of questions about a relatively new form of ballot measure in Washington state — the statewide tax advisory vote. Here are some FAQs to help shed some light:
- Q. What are these Advisory Votes 3 through 7 that I see in my Voters’ Pamphlet?
- A. These are nonbinding measures that let voters say whether they think the Legislature should “repeal” or “maintain” revenue-generating bills that lawmakers passed this year. The Legislature used the $200 million from these revenue sources to help balance the new two-year budget.
- Q. What taxes are we talking about?
- A. There are five separate revenue bills that are subject to the advisory vote process this election. They don’t deal with familiar statewide taxes like sales, B&O or property taxes, but rather lesser-known taxes including the leasehold excise tax, commuter aircraft, pediatric dental insurance coverage, telecommunications services, and estate taxes on estates of over $4 million. Each tax gets a separate advisory vote.
- Q. So if a majority of the public vote goes for the “repeal” option, the tax will go away?
- A. No, the vote is nonbinding. That means the Legislature can take note of the public vote — or not. There is not an automatic repeal, as could happen with a regular referendum or initiative process.
- Q. Where did this advisory vote idea came from? First I’ve heard of it.
- A. Actually, it came from a little-noticed provision of Initiative 960 approved back in 2007. That was Tim Eyman’s measure that required a two-thirds vote in both houses for the Legislature to raise taxes in Olympia. (That measure passed, but the State Supreme Court later threw out the two-thirds requirement as unconstitutional.) The 2007 debate and press coverage focused almost exclusively on the two-thirds issue, but I-960 also said that if lawmakers passed taxes in Olympia, it would automatically trigger a tax advisory vote in the next general election.
- Q. And this is the first time we’ve had these advisory votes on the ballot?
- A. Well, no. We voted on No. 1 and No. 2 last fall. They didn’t get a whole lot of attention because that was the big presidential election year, including electing our governor and all the statewide officials, the U.S. House delegation, most of the Legislature and, oh, did we mention gay marriage and marijuana legalization?
- Q. What happened with those two advisory votes? What were they about?
- A. One imposed a higher tax rate on some large out-of-state banks and the other lowered the petroleum tax but extended its life over a longer-than-originally-approved number of years. The “repeal” vote prevailed in both cases. The Legislature, facing a multibillion-dollar budget gap, did not seriously consider repeal of taxes that had been approved overwhelmingly by both houses and were being used to balance the budget.
- Q. Is that why this year’s advisory vote numbers start with No. 3?
- A. Exactly.
- Q. Another question: Why are the tax issues presented the way they are in the Voters’ Pamphlet? There’s no description or summary by the Attorney General that gives me some background on each bill, and I don’t see pro and con arguments. All I see are the bill numbers, the statement that my legislators passed it “without a vote of the people,” a few lines on the subject matter and that it goes for “government spending.”
- A. The language is spelled out in the initiative, right down to the phrases you mentioned. The 10-year revenue projection, unlike the six-year projection used by agencies and budgetwriters, is required, and is prepared by the governor’s budget office. There is no provision for pro and con statements or any background information explaining the tax or what it pays for. Wordsmiths in the Attorney General’s Office are not permitted to write the explanatory statements or ballot title, as they do for initiatives and referenda. Those statements are subject to court review for bias or because one side or the other wants different wording. In the case of advisory votes, the AG fills in the blanks that are provided in I-960 and the Secretary of State likewise is not permitted to add explanatory information about each measure.
- Q. Why do I see 147 legislators’ name, addresses, email, etc.?
- A. Again, that is mandated by I-960, along with how each one voted on each of the revenue bills. Presumably that is so a voter can contact their delegation to ask questions or give feedback for or against their tax votes.
- Q. Where can I get more information?
- A. Voters can access the full text of the five bills from the Online Voters’ Guide. For each advisory vote, there is a link called “Full Text” in the upper right hand corner. Voters can get more information about the 10-year cost projection via the Online Voters’ Guide, by linking to the link called “Office of Financial Management.” The Secretary of State’s Office generally does not answer questions about the substance of legislation or why the Legislature passed it. The Legislative Hotline is 1 (800) 562-6000.
Washington legislators are headed into an unusual second special session, still hoping to bridge stark partisan differences and avoid a June 30 deadline for averting a partial government shutdown.
Dejected and weary lawmakers were closing out their 30-day special session Tuesday with little to show for their labors. Gov. Jay Inslee, a freshman Democrat who once served in the state House himself, called a special session to convene at 9 a.m. on Wednesday.
At a Capitol news conference, Inslee sought to strike a balance between conciliation and impatience. He said he still wants to work with the Republican-controlled Senate on compromise legislation and a budget that boosts K-12 funding by $1 billion. But he also lit into the Senate coalition caucus, accusing them of rigidly following an “ideological agenda,” holding the school budget hostage for GOP bills that failed to pass the Democratic-controlled House. By contrast, he said, the House Democrats have backed off of some major priorities and have chopped their tax package by $771 million, he said.
The Senate coalition — 23 Republicans and two Democrats — have called for a somewhat smaller budget and said they would vote for new revenue only if the House will pass some policy reform bills.
UPDATE: Note that last paragraph recasts the original language…
Initiative activist Tim Eyman has filed what he called the “Super Bowl” version of his long line of ballot propositions aimed at blocking taxes and requiring a supermajority to pass tax hikes in Olympia.
It will have to be a hurry-up offense for Eyman, since there is little more than two months before his July 5 deadline to submit well over 300,000 petition signatures to secure a place on the fall General Election ballot. It takes roughly three weeks for an initiative to be processed by the state Code Reviser and Attorney General, and for the likely court challenge of the AG’s ballot title. After that, Eyman and co-sponsors Mike and Jack Fagan can have petitions printed and start the collection process.
Eyman and the Fagans were surrounded by a media scrum at the Secretary of State’s Office in the Capitol on Wednesday. They described their strategy of trying to enlist the voters to help pressure the Legislature into initiating a constitutional amendment to require a two-thirds supermajority in both houses to pass tax hikes in Olympia. Only the Legislature may originate a constitutional amendment, and it takes two-thirds voters in both houses and voter approval. An initiative requires only simple majority voter approval and can write or amend only statute law.
The State Supreme Court recently held that earlier voter-approved Eyman supermajority initiatives were unconstitutional, since only an amendment of the state constitution can add the new restriction. The constitution’s reference to passing bills — including tax bills — says only that a majority in each chamber will be required.
Eyman’s plan, quickly lambasted by his critics and some legislators, has three parts:
- A one-year life span for new taxes or extension of existing taxes.
- An annual statewide vote on an advisory measure on asking the Legislature to initiate the two-thirds supermajority constitutional amendment.
- Legislators and governors running for re-election would have all of their tax votes listed underneath their photos in the Voters’ Pamphlet.
Eyman includes an “escape” clause that says if lawmakers pass and refer the two-thirds-for-taxes constitutional amendment on the ballot, then the three provisions would expire.
Washington lawmakers and incoming Gov. Jay Inslee are arriving in Olympia for a grueling budget-year legislative session that begins at high noon on Monday.
The 63rd Legislature and the newly elected governor face a big budget shortfall — perhaps $2 billion, counting pay raises, rising cost of services for a growing and graying population and a state Supreme Court order to invest more in the state’s public schools. Democrat Inslee and a number of legislators say they will try to avoid raising state taxes, but talk of finding additional revenue from taxation of Internet sales, marijuana permits and fees, tax loophole closures and other sources.
Inslee and legislators from both parties also talk of a transportation funding package to go to the statewide ballot either this year or next.
But the biggest fireworks may turn out to be political and not fiscal. Two fiscally conservative Democrats have joined a solid bloc of 23 Republicans to seize control of the state Senate. The “majority coalition” plans to install the two Democrats in leadership roles, including Rodney Tom as majority leader. The coalition offered power-sharing, but the Ds mostly rejected the invitation to have fusion government essentially run by the minority.
Some analysts fear gridlock, given that the House and governor’s office are controlled by the Democrats, but leaders told an AP pre-legislative forum on Thursday they’re hoping for productive session. Tom and Senate Democratic Leader Ed Murray spoke of a “grand bargain” on key issues, such as K-12 enhancement and transportation.
Inslee also was in an upbeat mood heading into the session convening Monday and his inauguration Wednesday morning. He said he’ll focus on job creation and the economy “like a laser beam” and looks forward to partnering with the Legislature.
Lawmakers’ key tasks will be budget and revenue issues and dealing with a variety of touchy issues, including gun-control. They also are asked to deal with two initiatives and confirming Inslee’s cabinet appointees.
Time runs out Tuesday on Washington’s 30-day special session of the Legislature – and the Democratic leaders believe they’ve pretty well nailed down agreement on an $800 million tax package and a budget rewrite.
Rank-and-file lawmakers have been back in their home districts for nearly all of the special session that Governor Gregoire called on March 15. House Speaker Frank Chopp of Seattle, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown of Spokane and budget and finance negotiators, along with the governor and her lieutenants, have slogged through House-Senate differences over the revenue package. Lawmakers are scheduled to re-convene in Olympia Saturday afternoon, and Brown says if all goes according to plan (fam0us last words!), session can wrap up on time, or even a day early.
You’ll recall that Olympia is dealing with a $2.8 billion budget gap (after last year’s $9 billion hole, no less). They’ve agreed that $800 million of the solution will be in higher taxes, and the (more…)
Time sure flies when you’re having fun … and Washington lawmakers just can’t get enough of the Capitol. The 60 days allotted for election-year sessions expire at midnight Thursday evening, and by now the House and Senate leaders are facing up to the prospect of going into overtime.
The two chambers, both with big Democratic majorities, are still at odds over the size and composition of a tax package. The Senate’s tax package is over $890 million and includes a sales tax increase of 0.3 percent; the House version is more than $200 million lighter and does not include the sales tax surcharge. The two chambers disagree over how much financial help will be forthcoming from the feds, and there are numerous differences over state spending cuts, including health care and prison cuts.
House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler and Senate leaders were acknowledging that lawmakers have “run out of runway” and that Governor Gregoire will need to call a special session – the first in recent years. Gregoire, who is demanding passage of education reform legislation, is expected to call a session of up to 30 days. The cost is about $18,000 a day.
Washington lawmakers, struggling with a $2.8 billion budget gap, generally acknowledge that deep spending cuts will be required, but they’re still sparring over whether to also rely heavily on tax hikes. Not much guidance from a new statewide poll that shows similar conflicting views among the electorate.
Although a sizable chunk (37 percent) wouldn’t support new taxes, 63 percent said it would at least be part of the solution. The latter voters gave a mixed reply when asked whether the tax package should be anchored by a temporary sales tax increase “so everybody pays” or rely on more targeted taxes, mostly paid on discretionary purchases like candy, cigarettes and bottled water.
“No majority for anything – a majority against everything,” independent pollster Stuart Elway said Tuesday. Elway polled 405 registered voters by phone over the weekend, with a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points. (more…)
House Democrats have weighed into the tax debate in Olympia, offering an assortment of tax hikes – called “cats and dogs” in Capitol-speak – rather than a package that is anchored by a state sales tax increase.
The $858 million package is closer in approach to Governor Gregoire than the Senate Democrats. The Democratic governor proposed a $605 million mix of taxes, including a $1-a-pack tax on cigarettes, a tax on pop and candy and a higher hazardous materials tax on petroleum and other products. The House closes tax loopholes and taxes smokes, bottle water, elective cosmetic surgery, custom software and personal aircraft. It boosts the tax on lawyers, accountants and others. It does not include the hazardous waste tax increase, nor does it follow the Senate’s lead of boosting the sales tax by three-tenths of a cent on the dollar. The Senate’s approach would raise $918 million during the next 18 months.
The two chambers, in consultation with the governor, are racing a March 11 adjournment deadline to pass a budget rewrite and a tax package that will close a $2.8 billion budget gap.