A bipartisan group of lawmakers is pushing a state constitutional amendment that would require costly ballot initiatives to identify a funding source.
OLYMPIA — A bipartisan group of lawmakers is trying to prevent voters from approving costly ballot initiatives without sponsors first identifying a way to pay for them.
The group has proposed a state constitutional amendment that would require any initiative expected to cost the state or local governments more than $5 million to include a tax increase or a new tax to cover the new spending.
“People want government to live within its means but then pass initiatives that cost millions, sometimes billions, of dollars to implement,” said Rep. Fred Finn, D-Olympia, the prime sponsor of the bill, House Joint Resolution 4224.
Two education initiatives approved by voters in 2000 would cost more than $1 billion over two years, but both have been suspended by lawmakers since 2009 as part of state budget cuts. Initiative 728 was aimed at decreasing class sizes, while I-732 provided teachers with cost-of-living pay increases.
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Last November, voters approved Initiative 1163, which increases training for long-term-care workers. The measure, scheduled to go into effect July 1, is estimated to cost $32 million over the next two years, partially offset by federal matching dollars and new fees.
Voters approved a similar initiative in 2008, but it was suspended by lawmakers — with the consent of union sponsors — who said the state couldn’t afford the cost.
“It’s very easy for us citizens to say it’s a good idea without regard to how to fund it,” said Rep. Deb Eddy, D-Kirkland, who supports Finn’s bill. “Who’s going to be against more training for home-care workers?”
Because HJR 4224 would be a constitutional amendment, it would need a two-thirds vote in the House and the Senate, and voter approval, to become law.
Tim Eyman, who makes his living running initiatives, opposes Finn’s bill and says it’s more about political control than the cost of initiatives. Lawmakers are just trying to erect more barriers to citizen lawmakers, he said.
“Legislators don’t like the initiative process, because if you don’t like what the legislators do, it goes to voters and they lose the monopoly,” Eyman said. “This has nothing to do with making the process better. It’s essentially regulating it to death.”
Under the constitutional amendment, the state would determine whether a proposed initiative filed with the secretary of state would cost more than $5 million to implement. If so, the initiative would be rejected unless it also specifies a tax increase or new tax to cover the costs.
Initiative sponsors would have to figure out what kind of tax provision to include.
The proposal has 22 co-sponsors in the House, including Republican Reps. Gary Alexander of Olympia, Hans Zeiger of Puyallup and Judy Warnick of Moses Lake.
Stephanie Kim: 360-236-8266 or firstname.lastname@example.org