Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Electoral Storm - Initiatives

About two weeks back was the deadline date for state-wide initiatives for the fall ballot. Washington State has an initiative system to grant the people more of a say in government. Mind you, often those initiatives are overturned or flat-out ignored, but its part of our process, and it does have an effect on State Government. We have an initiative and a referendum that are automatically on the ballot as a result of the State Gov. putting them there, and three more are likely in from overwhelming signatures (and there may be a couple that squeek in as well when all the signatures are counted).

I-844 is one of the initiatives that came in on a tide of signatures. It proposes upping the retail sales tax by 1% and targeting that for education. While I'm a big fan of education, and will likely support it, I'm always a little leery of targetted taxes - they indicate that we're not spending the money in the right place to start with. Opponents, like the Citizens for a Sound Economy, are rallying against it because it will increase our taxes and reduce our attractiveness to businesses (contrary to the local agitprop, Washington State does not have the highest taxes in the country, and is actually in the top ten for attracting new business).

I-892 is another intitiative brought in through signatures and backed by the Tim Eyeman machine, and intends to increase gambling opportunities to reduce property taxes. This is the one I was push-polled a while back on, and since then the referendum has metasticised from loose slots into electronic scratch-and-win tickets. This one is getting big bucks from gambling interests from outside the state (Its biggest funder is the Great Canadian Gaming Corporation) and is being opposed by the tribal casinos, which already offer such tickets. Eyeman is pitching it as "Look! Those Indian casinos are getting an advantage we don't have! We want it too!". Oddly, that sense of egalitarianism wasn't around when we were handing out smallpox blankets.

Eyeman's group of professional signature gatherers had another initiative on the board - I-864, which would cut all local property taxes not directly approved by the voters by 25%. This one augured in, failing to make its required signatures, which is a surprise - previous "everyone gets a pony" initiatives have at least gotten on the ballot. Maybe people are tired of having to vote in every budgetary increase.

The third intiative that looks likely is sponsored by the Washington State Grange, and while it sounds like an arcane operation from the 1800's, is a player in state politics with both money and grass-roots support. I-872 is a backlash initiative to the eradication of the open primary. This will install a Montana-style top-two primary system as opposed to a party-based system, and is pretty much intended to give the political parties a good swift kick for getting rid of the open primaries in the first place. I've got my doubts about this - Montana is not what you would call a politically diverse culture, and applying it here may result in no Dems or no Reps on the final ballot in some places. Still, if the primary becomes a major screwup (and what are the odds, really?), then this will be a strong initiative in the fall.

The initative already guaranteed on the ballot is I-297, which prohibits shipping additional material to the Hanford nuclear site until we clean up what's already there. Hanford is a government-owned, Chernobyl-style reactor on the eastern end of the state, which pops up in the news every so often when they talk about a leak from some decades-old tank containing material with a half-life of tens of thousands of years. This has a national angle, since the Feds are now looking to start stashing glowing stuff in Yucca Mountain, Nevada (and no, the people in Nevada aren't particularly happy about this).

We also have a guarenteed Referendum, which differs from an Initiative in that it doesn't get signatures and is pretty much the State saying "We're doing this, OK, yeah?". R-55 is a yes-or-no on Charter Schools, which have been shot down in the Seattle area twice now but were negotiated through the State House. I'm a little unsure about this - Corporately funded schools have some success stories and some black eyes, and after more than ten years of national existence, seem to function at the same level as public schools. What strikes me in the discussions is the "cure-all" nature of its proponents - Your kid is struggling in Public? - Charter Schools. Your kid isn't being challenged? - Charter Schools. No discipline? - Charter Schools. Too much discipline? - Charter Schools. Don't like cafeteria food? - Charter Schools. The argument against Charters is that it pulls money out of the regular school budgets on a per-head capacity, and we have a Initiative giving more money to the Publics because they are underfunded. And, in the department of the weird, the same forces that don't want to spend more money on public education are supporting Charters, because Charter Schools are a business (and, of course, corporations know best).

In addition to I-864 cratering, also unlikely to appear on the ballot are I-890 and I-891 which were various smoking bans, and I-895, which would allow insurance companies to offer bare-bones insurance coverage. I've got a note on another primary-revising Initiative, I-318, which would provide for "instant runoff elections" like in San Francisco and Ireland, but I think that may be for another election cycle. If any more pop up, I'll mention them here.

More later,