Yesterday I was in Olympia, testifying on SB 6665 before the Senate Committee on Government Operations & Elections. SB 6665 is an act relating to initiative filing fees and proposes to increase the fee from $5 to $250.
Times are tough in Olympia and our state is facing an additional $2.6 billion revenue shortfall in the current budget. This is not the only fee that the Legislature should increase but it has been at $5 for the last 99 years. What else do you know that still costs the same after a century? Certainly the costs of running government has not stayed the same for the last century.
Tim Eyman of course showed up to oppose the proposed fee increase that would more accurately reflect the increased cost of running government over the last 99 years. This of course is despite his yearly initiative push to cut taxes and revenue to fund government and his zest for reduced government spending.
Eyman argued that legislators don’t have to pay $5 to file their bills so why should he. The Committee Chair responded that they have to run for office, whereas initiative sponsors don’t.
But the fee itself is not the real issue as to why this bill should be passed. I’ve filed and run and won a number of initiative campaigns in the past and I’m a strong defender of the initiative process. I’m from back in the old days before paid signature gatherers, where we used volunteers to collect all the signatures. These days most campaigns raise $500,000 to $600,000 to pay for the signatures collected by contracted workers who get paid by the signature. This is what Eyman does. So in terms of the overall cost of a campaign to just get on the ballot, $250 is a reasonable fee.
But the real problem is that some initiative filers abuse the system. They file multiple initiatives to game the system to try to get a good ballot title. They also game it to try to get a good ballot number. Bill Sizemore did this in Oregon and 2 years ago the Oregon State Legislature made changes to their initiative law to stop this practice, by requiring that initiative sponsors show public support for their proposal before committing state resources and revenue to process an initiative. Oregon now requires that when an initiative is first filed that it include signatures of 1000 sponsors who are registered voters in the state.
What upset Senator Pam Roach was that I noted that Tim Eyman also did ballot title shopping. Ballot title shopping is where you file multiple versions of an initiative with minor word changes to try to get the most favorable wording of the ballot title and summary. This all runs up the state expenses to process and defend ballot titles if they are challenged by either the sponsor or someone else.
Last year Tim Eyman filed 24 initiatives, basically multiple versions on 3 different topics. Some were filed as initiatives to the people and some as initiatives to the legislature. He only collected signatures on one of these.
This year Eyman has already filed 5 versions of the same initiative, including 4 he filed on the first filing day for initiatives to the people. Obviously this calls into question Tim’s explanation that he filed multiple versions to get feedback and make changes.
The reality is that you don’t need to file multiple initiatives to get feedback. You can send anyone who want copies of the measures and ask for feedback on your draft before you file. This is the way most initiative sponsors do it. Copies can be sent to all the Legislators and the Governor and interested parties as well as lawyers. You can revise your drafts and ask for further comments.
Well in Senator Roach’s opinion I had impuned the motives of Tim Eyman by noting that he ballot title shopped his initiatives. She started ranting that I should cease testifying and be removed from the hearing. Senator Darlene Fairley, the Chair of the Committee basically ignored her and allowed the Hearing to continue.
Pam Roach is an ardent Eyman supporter and is a sponsor of his current measure to try to reimpose, if repealed, the I-960 provisions that currently allow 1/3 of the Legislators to prevent 2/3 of the Legislators from raising revenue or repealing any under-performing tax exemptions. It is a backdoor governing approach that gives the conservative Republicans minority control over the state budget even though voters clearly elected a majority of Democrats.
What they can’t win at the ballot box by electing a majority of conservatives and other Republicans to run the Legislature, they are doing by changing the operating rules of the Legislature to give a minority veto power over the budget.
Initiative 960 and Eyman’s current initiative are unconstitutional. The Washington State Constitution says that the Legislature shall act by majority rule. The Legislature by simple majority vote can repeal I-960. They need to do that and move on to raise revenue to keep essential services. Cutting $2.6 billion means huge job losses which will make the recession even worse. It’s time to eliminate the unconstitutional abuse of power by conservatives. Democrats need to step up and act.