Our initiative process needs to change | Don Brunell

Would you buy a new car or a new house without knowing how you’ll pay for it? Of course not. But Washington voters do something similar every time they approve a costly initiative without specifying how it will be paid for.

Would you buy a new car or a new house without knowing how you’ll pay for it? Of course not. But Washington voters do something similar every time they approve a costly initiative without specifying how it will be paid for.

That needs to change.

In 2000, voters overwhelmingly approved two initiatives to hire more teachers and provide annual cost of living increases for all K-12 school employees and faculty at community and technical colleges.

Even though the measures would increase spending by hundreds of millions of dollars, neither initiative identified a source of new funding. Within a couple of years, the cash-strapped Legislature suspended both measures.

In 2004 and 2010, voters were asked to approve new taxes to pay for those suspended education initiatives. They overwhelmingly refused.

That didn’t stop voters from approving two more costly initiatives in 2008 and 2011, neither of which identified a source of funding. Both have since been suspended by lawmakers.

It’s easy to support well-intentioned programs, especially when you don’t have to decide how to pay for them. We got away with it during good times, because the new programs and services were paid for with surpluses and growing tax receipts.

Those days are over.

But initiative backers realize that it’s much harder to get voters to approve your measure if the price tag is staring them in the face.

For example, last year, the Service Employees International Union wanted to put an initiative on the ballot that would reinstate training and certification requirements for long-term care workers. Those requirements had originally been part of an initiative approved by voters in 2008, but lawmakers suspended them for lack of funds.

SEIU had filed several versions of its “reinstatement” initiative with the Secretary of State that did identify funding sources — a $1 per pack cigarette tax increase, a $1 per liter liquor tax increase, or various other tax increases. In the end, they chose the version that did not specify how it would be paid for. It was approved by voters but never funded by lawmakers.

What about the courts? Couldn’t they step in and force lawmakers to fund these programs? Perhaps not.

In 2010, the State Supreme Court was asked to compel Gov. Gregoire to include funding in her budget for wage increases that had been awarded by an arbitrator to home health workers.  The court declined, citing the governor’s discretionary budgetary power.

In reality, all this turmoil is unnecessary. There would be no need to force funding of suspended initiatives if all initiatives placed on the ballot were required to specify what they will cost and how they will be paid for.

However, this may not happen anytime soon. After all, it’s far easier to get voters to approve new spending if they don’t have to think about how to pay for it.

Perhaps initiative backers are content to know that, even if those costly obligations are delayed or suspended, they stay on the books. When the economy begins to recover, the added costs from all those suspended initiatives will kick in again.

But it’s time to stop playing games with our initiative process. Voters have a right — and an obligation — to know how ballot initiatives will be paid for.

[flipp]

More in Business

Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon and Page Carson Foster. Photo credit Washington State Legislative Support Services
Carson Foster serves as page in Washington State House

The following was submitted to the Reporter: Carson Foster, a student at… Continue reading

Microsoft has expanded their AccountGuard service to 12 new European Countries. Yellow: European countries already protected. Blue: European countries now protected. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Microsoft warns of hacking ahead of elections

Launching defense services in Europe.

Praerit Garg joins Smartsheet as CTO

Bellevue-based company employs 760 people

OfferUp founder Nick Huzar makes customer safety a core pillar

Bellevue-based CEO wanted a simpler solution to his own problems

Photo by Tiffany Von Arnim/Flickr
Puget Sound companies join to create middle-income housing

Several are the same companies that opposed Seattle’s head tax last year.

Washington to begin collecting sales tax from out-of-state sellers

On Aug. 3 the Washington Department of Revenue said it will require some out-of-state retailers to begin collecting sales tax.

Seattle’s Misstep highlights need for new approach

Last week, Seattle’s City Council did an “about face” revoking the onerous… Continue reading

Hotel Interurban is now open

This is Tukwila’s first boutique hotel in over 20 years and offers 185 hotel rooms.

PCC Community Markets brings first certified organic grocery to Burien

The grand opening for the new market in is May 23 and is the first PCC store south of Seattle.

The exterior of Hotel Interurban. Courtesy photo.
Hotel Interurban is accepting reservations for spring 2018

Tukwila’s first boutique hotel in over 20 years will feature local artists, dynamic meeting and event spaces.

Boeing held an event to celebrate the production of the 10,000th 737 jetliner. The Southwest airplane was displayed at the Renton plant on March 13. Leah Abraham, Renton Reporter
Celebrating the 10,000th 737

Boeing has reached a significant milestone — its 10,000th 737 jetliner. Hundreds… Continue reading

Raina Labrum plays with her dog, Riven, right, as well as Daisy, center, and Poby, left, at Piper’s Playground indoor dog park in Federal Way. Heidi Sanders, the Mirror
Piper’s Playground offers indoor play space for dogs

The first Federal Way indoor dog park opened Jan. 18.