Tag Archives: initiatives

Tim Eyman’s Attack on Free Speech with Initiative 517

Initiative 517 is a Tim Eyman initiative that is on the November 2013 ballot in Washington State.  It is a measure to promote Tim Eyman’s  business – which is making a living off of putting conservative libertarian measures on the ballot.  In this case Eyman wants to create a 25 foot signature gathering zone around petitioners where people can not speak out and oppose his business. It is a direct infringement on the free speech rights of citizens, violating the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution.

Jason Mercier of the conservative “free market” Washington Policy Center writes about Initiative 517 in today’s Thedailyworld.com under a headline of “Heavy hitters line up against I-517“. Mercier in his opinion piece brushes aside some of the concerns about Eyman’s self serving initiative as non-controversial.  That is not the reality.

This measure is not as uncontroversial as Jason Mercier suggests. One of Eyman’s provisions is to create a 25 foot no harassment zone around signature gatherers.  There are already penalties for harassment that work just fine. I-517 tries to go much further by shutting down free speech activities around petition gatherers.

Eyman’s measure infringes on 1st amendment rights by setting up a 25 zone around petitioners saying that certain activity can result in disorderly conduct charges including activity that is “…intimidating, or maintaining an intimidating presence within twenty-five feet of any person gathering signatures”.  To most petitioners someone standing 5 feet away and carrying a sign saying “do not sign this measure” or merely saying out loud that citizens should read the measure before signing it causes petitioners to say they are being harassed.

This measure is an attempt to shut down public discourse and dialogue in  public places and silence those opposing Eyman’s measures.  This violates 1st amendment free speech rights and goes too far.  Eyman wants a free pass to collect signatures without anyone questioning him.  Trying to silence those that dissent peacefully with others is what you would expect in a totalitarian society, but not in America.

We will publish more of our concerns about Initiative 517 over the next few months but believe it goes too far.  The public strongly supply the initiative process in Washington State and it has been used by both right and left leaning groups in pushing Washington policy and law. But there is a balancing act necessary to protect rights of both supporters and opponents of specific initiative measures in the public arena.

Initiative 517 is a “solution” looking for a problem and there isn’t one in this case. Eyman has not had a problem getting initiatives on the ballot and neither have others, especially if they have money. This measure would make it easier for Eyman to get more of his measures on the ballot and that is why he is pushing it.

For progressives thinking this will make it easier for them to get measures on the ballot, the downside is that they will also have to spend more time fighting more conservative measures put on the ballot by Eyman, including those at the local level. It’s already hard enough to fight an Eyman measure year after year.  Think what it will be like with two or three Eyman measures on the ballot each year and 4 or 5 others at the same time at the local level.

We elect a Legislature to do the people’s business after public hearings and review.  While initiatives are a healthy outlet  for the public to act when the legislature doesn’t, running our state more and more by initiative puts the process of making our state laws up for sale to the highest bidder.

Unfortunately the highest bidder is usually corporate and special interests that can afford to spend millions to get their message out to the voting public.




Do District Elections for Seattle Make Sense?

A third initiative effort is underway for district elections for Seattle City Council members. Two previous efforts have not been successful with the voters. The current proposal is for a hybrid system. It proposes to divide Seattle  into 7  districts and elect a Council member from each one.  Two additional members would be elected city wide. Right now all City Council members are elected citywide. You can see the proposal more specifically by visiting their website at Seattle Districts Now.

The real question is what is broken and is it necessary to radically change the current system.

Would district elections of Seattle City Council members be good for Seattle? The proponents argue that current  Seattle City Council members are out of touch with the neighborhoods and don’t respond to constituents. They argue  that they have no one to take their neighborhood problems to and that having one Council member elected from their district will solve that problem.

I believe it is wishful thinking to make the  assumption that the district person elected is going to somehow be more responsive  to neighborhood concerns and things will be better than the current situation. There is no guarantee.  Council members  are elected for 4 years so it would be 4 years before someone could run again to change things.  And there is the danger that district Council members may also  pay a lot less attention to  issues in other districts as well as city wide issues.

There is also the problem that even if you get a good District City Council member, you still need 5 votes out of 9 to get things done on the Council. Former City Council member Sam Smith was fond of repeating this over and over.

Dividing the city into districts means that because 7 of the new Council members would each only represent 1/7 of the voters and only 2 all of the voters, that this combination would give the Mayor more power and diminish the power of the City Council compared to the current City Council /Mayor structure where they are all elected citywide.

Right now nine City Council members represent all voters and voters can approach any of the nine City Council members for help. Council members are responsible for the whole city, not just 1/7 of the city. Under district elections you are pinning your hopes on one City Council member to be your primary representative.

What if that city council member is not responsive to your needs? Going to any of the other 6 district Council members probably will not be as successful because they are much less likely to feel the need to respond to your concerns as you are no longer their constituent who can vote against them. And if the issue does not involve a neighborhood in their district they are more likely to not get involved.

It’s just like trying to talk to a state legislator about a problem in your legislative district and he/she is a representative from another legislative district. He/she may listen to you but will more than likely tell you to talk to your own elected representatives.

You have 2 other city wide City Council members to try but it is not the same as having 9 possible council members to approach as you can now.

In addition proponents of district elections  argue that it is too expensive to run for Seattle City Council and that being able to run in a smaller area means more people can run and have a chance of winning without having to raise big dollars. In the 2011 cycle, incumbent City Council members raised on the average about $250,000 and most challengers usually raised much less. Money means outreach and voter contact and without it is is difficult to run.

I have run twice for the Seattle City Council myself and came in third twice. I understand the money problem but  I also think that with this proposal  people may be  putting too many hopes on the idea that changing the election process will generate more success in electing neighborhood candidates. I think the problems are bigger than that.

One basic fact will still remain. Most incumbents in Seattle are pretty well versed on the issues before them and have name recognition and media exposure that challengers usually do not. Not all challengers are qualified to run for office, lacking experience in city issues or campaign experience. Voters need a reason to throw an incumbent out.  And they need some sense that the challenger will do a better job.

It is a false assumption to assume that incumbency, name recognition  or money will no longer be big factors in who gets elected. Once elected in a District it will be hard to remove incumbents. One only has to look at how long some state Legislators have stayed in office and how  hard it is to challenge them.

As to money I believe the same interests that support the current elected City Council members will still put their money into candidates that represent their interests. Money will still be a significant factor in City Council races.It is highly likely that most of the current City Council members will adjust to a new system and either run for a District seat in the area they live in or one of the two citywide seats and some will move if need be to another district to run.

The downtown interests and developer interests and business interests that neighborhood groups point to as funding the current Council members are not going to declare defeat or ignore City Council races because of District elections.  They will support the same people who represent their interests whether they run in District elections or City wide. They will also recruit candidates to run in Districts to represent their interests if current Council members do not run in those districts. And expect they will spend as much as now to elect their candidates only the efforts will now be focused on a much smaller population of voters.

Business interests will still be able to target their mailers to voters in the Districts and will still be able to draw contributions  and support from business interests citywide as well as PAC donations.

Meanwhile I think neighborhood candidates will have a more difficult time raising money because neighborhood people across the city will be less likely to give money to elect a candidate not running in their neighborhood. It is similar to what happens now in electing State Legislators. Most of their individual donors live in their legislative district. And other money coming from PAC’s will have the same strings attached as if they were running citywide.

Perspective neighborhood candidates will also have to face the limitations of running based on where they live.   With district elections the options will be limited to either running against the incumbent in your district or for one of the two city wide seats.  If their district incumbent is entrenched or popular or both their options are limited for running.

Right now perspective candidates can pick any incumbent city council candidate to run against  or any seat. They can pick who they consider the weakest incumbent is. With district elections they would have to move to do that if it isn’t their incumbent district city council member. Moving unfortunately is not an option for most people or candidates, particularly challengers who are not guaranteed to win in any sense of the word.

Unfortunately  moving would take you out of the district you live in, raising the issue of being a carpetbagger. In addition it would remove you  from your previous district  connections and involvement and credentials  that supposedly are one of  a neighborhood candidate’s assets to running in a district. And if you lose you have to wait 4 more years before you can run again in that district. Right now if you lose you can run again in two years  if an open seat emerges or you just decide to run again against a different sitting incumbent.

Suppose you live in a District that has an incumbent neighborhood advocate like say Council member Nick Licata and you want to run. You’re not going to run against him so your only option is to run for one of the two citywide seats up every 4 years, which may also have 2 popular incumbents. Do you move? Your options to run have now become much more limited and the options of other good candidates have also become more limited, because of the restrictions that district boundaries place on your ability to run.

These and other concerns need to be weighted carefully before neighborhood advocates and others charge forward with significant changes to how we elect City Council members.  I believe difficulties will still remain and it will be just as difficult to get elected as it is now.  Downtown and business interests will still play a pivotal role in funding and electing candidates and are not going to concede the City Council to neighborhood advocates.

The prime criteria to get elected will still remain – the need to be a credible candidate with a clear  compelling reason for voters to vote for you, the ability to articulate a vision for the future of the city, not just your neighborhood, the ability to raise money, the ability to communicate your message to voters and the ability  connect with the voters.


Eyman’s Initiative 517 Certified for November 2013 Ballot

Tim Eyman’s Initiative 517 was certified on January 23rd by the Washington Secretary of State’s office.  I-517  is an initiative to the legislature. If, as likely, the legislature chooses not to act on it, it will be placed on the November 5, 2013 ballot. The legislature has an option to put an alternative on the ballot with it.

The official ballot title and summary for I-517 is:

Ballot Title
Initiative Measure No. 517 concerns initiative and referendum measures.

This measure would set penalties for interfering with or retaliating against signature-gatherers and petition-signers; require that all measures receiving sufficient signatures appear on the ballot; and extend time for gathering initiative petition signatures.

Should this measure be enacted into law? Yes [ ] No [ ]

Ballot Measure Summary
This measure would define terms concerning interfering with or retaliating against petition-signers and signature-gatherers, and would make such conduct a criminal misdemeanor and subject to anti-harassment laws. The measure would require that all state and local measures receiving enough signatures be placed on the ballot, limiting pre-election legal challenges. The measure would also extend the time for filing initiatives and gathering signatures from ten to sixteen months before the election when the vote would occur.

View Complete Text PDF

Initiative 517 is not needed and should be rejected by both the Washington State Legislature and the voters.

Initiative 517 – which Tim Eyman calls the “Protect the Initiative Act” is really the “Protect Tim Eyman’s Profit Machine Initiative“.   Tim started initiative efforts in 1995 and by 1999 they had become his primary business.  This is an initiative meant to increase Tim’s business of putting right wing conservative measures on the ballot in Washington State.

I-517 is Tim Eyman’s attempt to increase his initiative business to a year round activity, guarantee more markets for his initiatives by requiring cities and counties to put them on the ballot, and eliminate any opposition to people signing his measures by expanding anti harassment laws to try to unconstitutionally limit free speech rights of others.

As explained on the website opposing Initiative 517:

Initiative 517 has three main provisions:

  • It would double the period of time permitted for signature gathering for an initiative to the people, allowing Tim Eyman and his associates, Jack Fagan, Mike Fagan, Edward Agazarm and Roy Ruffino to make collecting signatures for initiatives to the people a more profitable and lucrative year-round business.
  • It attempts to prevent Washingtonians from exercising their First Amendment freedoms of speech and assembly in a “Decline to Sign” campaign by making it a misdemeanor to maintain an “intimidating presence” within “twenty-five feet of any person gathering signatures or any person trying to sign any initiative or referendum petition”.
  • It dubiously requires leaders of cities, counties, and other local jurisdictions that provide for their own initiative process to place any initiative with sufficient voter signatures on the ballot for a public vote at public expense, even if the initiative in question concerns a matter that exceeds the lawful scope of the local initiative power.

Laws already exist to deal with harassment within our state. What Eyman is proposing is to expand those laws so that anyone opposed to his initiatives would be prevented from coming with 25 feet of a petitioner. This is a violation of free speech. Because words like intimidation and harassment can take on many common meanings, the first amendment rights of citizens opposing a measure, such as merely urging people to read a measure  before signing it, could cause them to be subject to arrest.

USlegal.com for instance says the following about harassment, which should give any free speech advocates cause for concern regarding giving petitioners special rights superior to those of other citizens.

“Harassment is governed by state laws, which vary by state, but is generally defined as a course of conduct which annoys, threatens, intimidates, alarms, or puts a person in fear of their safety. Harassment is unwanted, unwelcomed and uninvited behavior that demeans, threatens or offends the victim and results in a hostile environment for the victim. Harassing behavior may include, but is not limited to, epithets, derogatory comments or slurs and lewd propositions, assault, impeding or blocking movement, offensive touching or any physical interference with normal work or movement, and visual insults, such as derogatory posters or cartoons. 

Now the problem is that of course anyone who stands say 5 feet away from a petitioner with a sign that says “Read this initiative before you sign it. It is a terrible initiative” or something to that effect would obviously “annoy” a petitioner. The petitioner could consider it a “derogatory poster”. The petitioner could consider it a “hostile environment”. But if the sign holder is not physically assaulting a petitioner or blocking a petitioner from having people sign a petition, why should the sign holder lose his right of free speech. Why should he be harassed and threatened with being arrested. Tolerance and fairness is required on both sides. Free speech for all is guaranteed under the US Constitution, not just those on one side of an issue.

Eyman wants to create a special class of free speech rights for paid petitioners so he can, without public debate, more easily secure a place on the ballot. It is his business and he is asking for special rights for helping his business put more money in his pocket. Next he will be claiming that only his side should be able to speak publicly at public forums regarding the merits of an initiative since anyone speaking against his initiative  is “harassing”him.

As former Secretary of State Sam Reed wrote in his official statement in 2012 on the secretary of state’s website regarding “Filing Initiatives and Referenda in Washington State”

“Do I have the right to urge people not to sign a petition?
Yes, as a matter of freedom of speech. Opponents of an initiative or referendum can certainly express the opinion that it would not be a  good idea for a voter to sign a petition. An opponent, however, does
not have the right to interfere with the petition process. In fact, it is a gross misdemeanor to interfere with somebody else’s right to sign a petition, and there are also laws against assaulting people. You can certainly express your opinion, but you must remember that other people have rights to their opinions as well, including the right to sign petitions you may not like.
This principle works both ways, of course. Neither side of an initiative or referendum campaign has the right to prevent the other from expressing opinions.”   

Here is part of the  language Eyman is proposing to add

(1) A person is guilty of disorderly conduct if the person: …

(e) Interferes with or retaliates against a person collecting signatures or signing any initiative or referendum petition by pushing, shoving, touching, spitting, throwing objects, yelling, screaming, being verbally abusive, blocking or intimidating, or other tumultuous conduct or maintaining an intimidating presence within twenty-five feet of any person gathering signatures or any person trying to sign any initiative or referendum petition. (2) Disorderly conduct is a misdemeanor. 

So most of the language would fall under current harassment law but “the maintaining an intimidating presence within twenty-five feet of any person gathering signatures or any person trying to sign an initiative or referendum petition” is so vague and subjective that it can easily be abused by any petitioner who wants to stop anyone opposing them .  This proposed initiative is not needed and is a threat to free speech.  It is frankly unconstitutional .

Another Tim Eyman Initiative Coming Your Way in 2013

Chances are pretty good that another Tim Eyman initiative will be on next year’s ballot. It’s been under the radar and has gotten little scrutiny.  Initiative 517 – called the “Protect the Initiative Act” is an initiative to the Legislature. It’s basic provisions are to extend the time allowed  to collect signatures by an extra six months, make it a misdemeanor to interfere or harass signature gatherers, allow more local initiatives  and prevent pre-election legal challenges to initiatives. The deadline to collect signatures and turn them in is January 3rd, 2013.

Eyman filed I-517 on May 4th, 2012 and quietly piggybacked it on his I-1185 campaign signature gathering efforts. As noted in the Tacoma News Tribune on September 6, 2012,  a complaint was filed with the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission charging that as a result of this piggybacking, I-517 illegally used money intended to pay for Eyman’s I-1185 signatures. The TNT noted that  “Through July alone, the campaign picked up 144,000 signatures …” of some 320,000 required by Jan 3, 2013. To date the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) has not acted publicly on this complaint. One can well argue that this is a self serving initiative to benefit Tim Eyman and his initiative business. It is special interest legislation that would give Eyman the ability to do more initiative campaigns and at a lower cost. That is hardly what Washington State needs – more Eyman initiatives.

According to the most recent Public Disclosure Commission reports, Eyman has raised no money to fund this initiative.  Instead he reports that all the signature gathering to date paid for has been in kind donations by others. The bulk of the money spent in kind has been by an out of state conservative foundation called  – Citizens in Charge out of Lakeridge, VA. To date they have donated in kind some $168,806.38 out of a total of $305,454 reported in kind total. Here is a breakdown of reported in kind donations from the PDC reports.

Citizens in Charge, Lakeridge, VA – $168, 806.38

People’s Petitioning, Edmonds, WA – $42,712

First Amendment, LLC, Olympia, WA – $7267.50

The remainder of the money, some $86,305 is now listed as individual in kind donations, mostly by paid signature gatherers. This is Eyman’s  attempt to get around the complaint that signature gatherers for I-1185 subsidized signature gathering for I-517. The problem is, if you read some of the e-mails involved, that appears to be a big question. Paid signature gatherers for I-1185 were told among other things that they had to also get signatures for I–517 or they would be fired.  Here is that part of the story as reported by the Tacoma News Tribune:

The PDC is investigating whether I-517 illegally used part of the money intended for I-1185.

That’s what’s alleged by critics such as Rick Walther. The Auburn signature gatherer says he was fired for refusing to reduce payments to his subcontractors for I-1185 signatures unless they also collected for I-517.

He said he and other gatherers were expected to take the money out of what had already been promised to them for the business-backed measure.

“All this money’s still coming from 1185,” Walther said of the arrangements. “There’s no new money for 517. They’re just moving funds around.”

The campaign denies using any money from I-1185 – instead leaning on petitioners’ interest in the topic to drive a volunteer effort. …

Directing the I-517 effort is Edward Agazarm, nicknamed “Eddie Spaghetti,” a fixture of Washington’s ­voter-petition industry.

His emails don’t exactly make it sound like a volunteer effort.

“If you don’t bring in equal numbers you are fired,” Agazarm wrote to another ­signature-gathering contractor, in what critics say is an order to collect a voter signature on I-517 for every signature petitioners were paid to collect on I-1185.

“Every petitioner in the state should get free SIGNATURES ON IT or else they should be fired, then stoned to death in a public square,” he said in another email.

So one has to ask why the PDC has not yet acted on this complaint with formal charges of some sort or referred the matter to the State Attorney General for more severe action than the PDC can impose.  The e-mails are pretty explicit that paid signature gatherers were coerced into collecting signatures for I-517 in order to be paid  for I-1185 signatures. Will Eyman  once again just get a slap on the wrist and continue on his merry way carrying on his initiative mill that helps pay his personal bills or will the PDC act forcefully by referring this matter to the Washington State Attorney General?

Here is more specific information on I-517:

Protect the Initiative Act
Ballot Title
Initiative Measure No. 517 concerns initiative and referendum measures.This measure would set penalties for interfering with or retaliating against signature-gatherers and petition-signers; require that all measures receiving sufficient signatures appear on the ballot; and extend time for gathering initiative petition signatures.Should this measure be enacted into law? Yes [ ] No [ ]Ballot Measure Summary
This measure would define terms concerning interfering with or retaliating against petition-signers and signature-gatherers, and would make such conduct a criminal misdemeanor and subject to anti-harassment laws. The measure would require that all state and local measures receiving enough signatures be placed on the ballot, limiting pre-election legal challenges. The measure would also extend the time for filing initiatives and gathering signatures from ten to sixteen months before the election when the vote would occur.View Complete Text

The Olympian Urges Voters to Reject Eyman and BP’s Initiative 1053

The Olympian has come out with an editorial strongly opposing Initiative 1053. It’s title “Initiative would give undemocratic veto power over budget” sums up one of the main arguments against Initiative 1053. Initiative 1053 would give 1/3 of the members of either House of the Washington State Legislature veto power over the state budget. What Eyman and special interests like Big Oil and Out of State Banks haven’t been able to achieve by electing a majority of legislators that support their position, they are trying to achieve by changing the rules by which Legislators can operate.

The Olympian’s editorial board recommends a vote against this Eyman initiative.

Why? We elect lawmakers to balance the budget. If we don’t like the way they do it, we can send them packing. But it’s unfair to take away one of their tools — tax increases. This initiative essentially gives a narrow minority — 17 senators or 34 House members, the difference of a simple majority and supermajority — veto authority on budget matters.

That’s not right nor is it democratic.

The Olympian continues with pointing out that the public expects the government to provide services yet doesn’t want to be taxed. People like Tim Eyman drone on endlessly and erroneously about the tax and spend Legislators. Yet as the Olympian notes:

Contrary to popular opinion tax increases are not the first solution for budget writers. In the past three years, lawmakers have dealt with a $12 billion shortfall. They’ve made $5.1 billion in program and service cuts; taken $3.6 billion in stimulus funds, transferred $1.7 billion from other funds; drawn down the ending fund balance and used money from the rainy day fund.

They’ve raised taxes by $800 million.

That’s a measured approach — certainly not “raise taxes as a first option.”

This nation and this state are on a financial precipice. We can tip in either direction. That economic uncertainty has consumers hunkered down and frightened.

This is no time to let a fraction of lawmakers dictate how this state’s budget is balanced.

Budget writing is a complex business with huge risks and people’s very lives at stake.

Tim Eyman’s “legislate by initiative” philosophy is an unwarranted intrusion into that complex decision-making process.

Vote “no” on Initiative 1053.

What the Olympian neglects to mention is that over a million dollars was spent to collect signatures using paid signature gatherers to put I-1053 on the ballot.  The big spenders as noted by Danny Westneat in the Seattle Times were not average citizens but special interests.

Why is Big Oil helping bankroll I-1053? It’s because they oppose Legislative efforts to slightly increase toxic waste taxes to help cleanup storm water runoff. They would rather citizens bear the brunt of toxic waste problems including cleanup while they deposit bank record  profits as they have in recent years.

“…Tim Eyman went more corporate than usual this year.

His Initiative 1053, to limit the Legislature’s tax-raising ability, has the type of stick-it-to-the-man appeal that you might think would get Joe Six-Pack to the ramparts.

Yet it’s on the ballot due to big cash from out-of-state oil companies such as BP, Tesoro and Conoco, which want to block any new oil taxes. Only about 12 percent of his more than $1 million came from individuals, according to the state Public Disclosure Commission.

I-1053 is an example of greed in action. Citizens need to vote NO on 1053 so polluters rather than citizens have to pay for cleanup or in it’s absence suffer continued polluting of Puget Sound and the environment.

For a list of other companies involved in greedy actions this years promoting special interest initiatives that pass the burden of taxes and/or lack of funding for public services  onto Washington taxpayers see http://www.stopgreed.org/

Judge Rules Money Trumps Fair Campaigns

A Federal Judge in Tacoma has ruled that the unfettered flow of money is equivalent to free speech in elections. The problem is that corporations and wealthy individuals have more money than average citizens and hence can buy more “free speech”.

The ruling throws out a Washington State law that limited individual contributions to campaigns to a maximum of $5000 per contribution in the last three weeks. The intent was to limit the influx of huge amounts of money right before an election that could put out false statements that opponents did not have the ability to respond to effectively.

Why this ruling is absurd is that both sides in an initiative for example had to comply with the same rules. It was not like one side was getting special treatment. Unfortunately now corporations and special interests can dump in huge amounts of money at the last minute without the ability of the opposing side or the media to respond to what can be false or erroneous statements. That is why the law was put in place.

The argument that the ability to spend any amount of money one wants in initiative campaigns is exercising free speech is absurd. Money buys paid speech. The Seattle Times article notes that already some $32.5 million has been spent on 6 initiatives this year.

The lawsuit was brought by Family PAC which opposed Referendum 71 last year. Referendum 71 passed 53% to 47% and expanded rights for domestic partners. It was opposed by conservative groups.

Income Tax Initiative to Kick Off Tomorrow

Proponents of a fairer tax system to benefit middle and lower income cititens of Washington State plan to officially announce the kick off their campaign tomorrow, April 21, 2010 at 10 AM at SoDo Coffee at 1918 Yesler in Seattle. Several drafts of the initiative have been filed with the Secretary of State’s Office in the last month so it is no secret that a tax reform measure was being considered. What was uncertain was whether such an effort would be done this year or next.

The measure that has been settled on is officially Initiative 1077.  The ballot title and summary as posted on the Secretary of State’s website site is as follows:

Ballot Title

Statement of Subject: Initiative Measure No. 1077 concerns taxation.

Concise Description: This measure would tax “adjusted gross income” above $400,000 joint ($200,000 individual), reduce the state property tax levy, reduce certain business and occupation taxes, and direct any increased revenues to education and health.
Should this measure be enacted into law? Yes [ ] No [ ]

Ballot Measure Summary

This measure would establish a tax on “adjusted gross income,” as determined under the federal internal revenue code, above $400,000 for married couples filing jointly, and above $200,000 for individuals; reduce the state property tax levy by 20%; and increase the business and occupation tax credit to $4,800. Revenues from this measure would first replace revenues lost from the reduced levy and increased credit. Any remaining revenues would be earmarked for education and health services.

Click here to see the text of I-1077.

The campaign will provide more details and answer questions at the press conference tomorrow. Bill Gates Sr. is one of the backers of this measure.He has been a long time proponents of tax reform in our state and about 10 years ago headed the Gates Commission which did a report of tax reform.  The state has done little to change our regressive tax system since the report came out.

A preliminary summary provided by the campaign notes that state property taxes would be reduced by 20%, saving the average homeowner $180.

Small business tax credits for the B&O tax would increase from the currrent $420 to $4800 annually.  This would eliminate B&O taxes for 80% of businesses in the state.

Dedicated revenue would be generated to fund education and health services by the state from a tax on high earners in the state, defined as couples with income over $400,000 and individuals with adjusted gross income over $200,000.  This would apply to only 3% of households in the state. The remainder
of households would see a reduction in their taxes.

Watch for more details as the campaign kicks off, including where you can get petitions to collect signatures.  The initiative deadline to turn in signatures is July 2, 2010 to get on the November ballot.  Sponsors must submit the signatures of 241,153 registered voters.  Typically extra signatures need to be turned in to account for an invalid rate of up to 20%, which means the campaign will have to submit 300,000 signatures to be relatively sure of qualifying.

Oh No, I Upset Senator Pam Roach!

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.

Washington State on Path to Dysfunctional Government?

The Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court this past weekend denounced his state’s overuse of the referendum process, stating that it has made California’s state government “dysfunctional“.

Similarities in the issues he raises arise with repeated Eyman initiatives, like I-1033, here in Washington State.

As reported in the New York Times, Chief Justice Ronald M George

denounced the widespread use of the referendum process to change state laws and constitutions. And he derided California as out of control, with voters deciding everything from how state budgets are spent to how farm animals are managed.

The state is unusual, he said, because it prohibits its Legislature from amending or repealing many types of laws without voter approval, essentially hamstringing that body — and the executive branch.

Justice George’s remarks come at a time of severe budget crisis in California stemming from a variety of factors, including mandates from ballot initiatives …

Justice George said that perhaps the “most consequential” impact of the referendum process is that it limits “how elected officials may raise and spend revenue.” He added, “California’s lawmakers, and the state itself, have been placed in a fiscal straitjacket by a steep two-thirds-vote requirement — imposed at the ballot box — for raising taxes.”

He added: “Much of this constitutional and statutory structure has been brought about not by legislative fact-gathering and deliberation, but rather by the approval of voter initiative measures, often funded by special interests. These interests are allowed under the law to pay a bounty to signature-gatherers for each signer. Frequent amendments — coupled with the implicit threat of more in the future — have rendered our state government dysfunctional, at least in times of severe economic decline.”

Similarities between the issues he raises about California and our situation here in Washington State are pretty obvious.

Previously voters passed Initiative 960 which requires a 2/3 vote of the Washington State Legislature to raise taxes or a vote of the people.
Initiative 960 even considers repealing special interest Tax Exemptions as raising revenue and requiring a 2/3 vote. So we’re not even able to just take a majority vote to repeal Tax Exemptions which aren’t working.

A 2/3 vote of the Legislature is needed to change an initiative for the first two years after it is enacted. Next Legislative session in January will mark the end of two years and I-960 can be changed with a simple majority vote.

But if I-1033 passes, it would put in that place that public votes would be required to raise taxes. Eyman’s Initiative 1033 does not just deal with freezing the state budget but also that of all 39 counties and 281 cities. For another two years this requirement could only be overturned by a 2/3 vote of the Legislature.

Any revenue increase by cities, counties or the state above Eyman’s recession level budget freeze would require a vote of the people despite whatever changes are made to I-960.

All this sounds like and is leading us down the road to California’s dysfunctional governing process that the California’s Chief Justice warns the public about.

Washington voters need to realize that Eyman’s straight jacket approach to government is lunacy and destined to make things much worse in Washington State. Vote No on I-1033.

Anti-Gay Initiatives Winning Most Places

Initiatives in 4 states dealing with banning gay marriage and adoption by gays are winning in 3 states and leading in the fourth state (California) as of this morning according to CNN.

The Los Angeles Times this morning declared that voters had approved Proposition 8. Passage of Prop. 8 according to the LA Times calls into question the marriage of some 18,000 gay couples over the last 4 and a half months.

As reported by CNN:

Arizona Proposition 103 – Ban on Gay Marriage 56% yes/ 44% no
*projected winner

Arkansas Initiative 1 – Ban on Gay Couples Adopting Children 57% yes/43% no
* projected winner

Florida Amendment 2 – Ban on Gay Marriage 62% yes/ 38% no
*projected winner

California Proposition B – Ban on Gay Marriage 52% yes/ 48% no
* still too close to call

The California results are with 95% of the precincts counted according to CNN. There were 5,163,908 yes votes to 4,760,336 no votes. Although the results aren’t final, it would appear to be very unlikely that this measure will be defeated.

Spending for and against Prop. B has broken national spending records for social initiatives, exceeding some $60 million as of last week according to US News and World Report. The races in Arizona and Florida have exceeded another $11 million.

Spending for and against Proposition 8 has been roughly equal. Some 40% of the money supporting the initiative has been identified as coming from members of the Mormon Church. The largest donor supporting Prop 8 with a $1.4 million donation has been the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization based in Connecticut.

The largest donation against the initiative was $1.3 million by the California Teacher’s Association.

The LA Times article reports that the latest spending on Proposition 8 on both sides now exceeds $74 million.