December 6, 2011
Initiative process needs reform
The state’s initiative process has turned Washington special-interest groups into children making up a Christmas list. Initiative creators come up with one pricey item after another that they want — or fees and taxes they want to go away — with little concern for the financial impacts.
In recent years, voters have decided that the Legislature needs a supermajority to raise taxes — essentially taking that option off the table.
If the initiative process is here to stay, one vital change should be made. All ballot language must include the financial impact.
Since 2000, we, the voting people, have decided that teachers need to be paid more, class sizes need to be lower, we don’t want to pay license tab fees of more than $30, we won’t pony up an extra couple of pennies for tax on a candy bar or bottle of water, and the latest, that people who provide care for senior citizens or the disabled should receive more training.
They are, generally, worthy ideas. Who is against lower taxes, smaller class sizes, cheaper candy or more training for Grandma’s caretaker?
Nowhere in any of these initiatives does it mention the cost. With a tax hike off the Legislature’s table, mandating more money for one program means taking it from somewhere else.
The fix for this is simple. Any initiative should state explicitly what the impact is to state or local budgets. These explanations should be both in the text of the initiative and in the voter’s guide.
Material backing up the presented facts must be presented to the Secretary of State for verification before the initiative goes on the ballot. Further, a summary of the financial impact, verified by a budgeting agency, must be included in the voter’s guide summary, both pro and con.
For too long, Washington voters have used the initiative process as a way to dream up and implement nice-sounding ideas completely detached from the reality of paying for them. If initiators truly believe in their ballot proposal, they should have to do the financial homework and present it to the voters.