Opinion

Election guide for 2010 Washington state initiatives | Editorial

Dear reader: The following guide is intended to give voters a frame of reference when completing ballots for the 2010 general election. For some measures, The Mirror offers pro and con viewpoints.

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Initiative 1053

According to the ballot: “This measure would restate existing statutory requirements that legislative actions raising taxes must be approved by two-thirds legislative majorities or receive voter approval, and that new or increased fees require majority legislative approval.”

Vote yes: Voters approved a similar provision in 2007 with I-960 (which was suspended by the Legislature after two years). The two-thirds majority threshold makes it harder for the Legislature to pass tax increases that are not approved by voters. Any proposal that doesn’t pass in the Legislature can be sent to voters, who could approve or reject it, with a simple majority.

Cons: This is initiative guru Tim Eyman’s latest attempt to micromanage state government and bog down efficiency through a wad of red tape. This proposal makes it harder for the Legislature to raise taxes. But it also grants undue power over the state budget to a small partisan minority.

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Initiative 1082

Vote yes: This proposal is intended to reform workers’ compensation insurance by opening up the market to private competition, which will ultimately reduce insurance costs and encourage efficiency. Although the initiative is supported by insurance companies, it is worth approving in the name of competition — and derailing the state Department of Labor and Industries monopoly on workers’ compensation. Let the state regulate and audit, just like most of the states in the country.

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Initiative 1098

Vote no: This proposal for a new income tax on wealthier residents will stifle the creation of wealth in a time when the state’s economy needs it most. According to the ballot title, “this measure would tax adjusted gross income above $200,000 (individuals) and $400,000 (joint-filers), reduce state property tax levies, reduce certain business and occupation taxes, and direct any increased revenues to education and health.” Those well-to-do residents are the ones who need to be spending and investing their money. The lack of an income tax is one of Washington state’s calling cards for doing business. Also worrisome is the possibility that a state income tax, once enacted on the wealthy, could extend to middle-of-the-road wage earners in the coming years.

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Initiatives 1100 and 1105

Vote yes on I-1100 and vote no on I-1105: I-1100 gets the state out of the liquor business while increasing competition in the free market with lower prices and more choices. In this case, retailers can buy liquor from manufacturers. The state can still regulate and tax liquor while focusing on enforcement. With more liquor outlets comes the possibility of more consumption, but then again, that’s more tax revenue, and those who want alcohol will find it regardless of who sells it. State liquor stores would be shut down by Dec. 31, 2011. If I-1100 and I-1105 both pass, Federal Way would lose roughly $651,000 in revenue each year, city manager Brian Wilson said. Revenue generated from the mark-up of spirits will go to the retailer, not the state, which currently has the nation’s highest mark-up at 51.9 percent. The state can find ways to make up the revenue. However, I-1105 represents the distribution side of the privatized liquor debate. I-1105 would repeal liquor taxes, install price controls and require retailers to purchase from distributors rather than manufacturers. That’s the primary difference between two initiatives that seek to privatize liquor sales, and I-1100 is the more practical option. Gov. Christine Gregoire has voiced her opposition to the initiatives, saying they would strip the state of much-needed revenue, and that the Legislature should reform liquor laws. Public policy via initiative is not the preferred route. However, those waiting for the Legislature to tackle this issue are going to keep on waiting. Vote yes on I-1100 and vote no on I-1105.

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Initiative 1107

The proposal: “This measure would end sales tax on candy; end temporary sales tax on some bottled water; end temporary excise taxes on carbonated beverages; and reduce tax rates for certain food processors.”

Vote yes: This hit-or-miss tax needs to be reversed. The original initiative involving an excise tax on carbonated beverages, bottled water and candy was sold as a way to end childhood obesity. However, the tax is inexact in its attempt to do this. All soda is included, yet diet soda has zero calories. Water has zero calories. There are more than 11,300 products that are affected such as sweetened chocolate, which is taxable, but unsweetened chocolate, which is not. Chocolate covered raisins are taxed, but malted milk balls are not. While it is admirable that this tax will by some accounts be worth about $272 million and will go toward the overall shortfall, the state is not entitled to this tax.

Cons: Nearly all money to back this initiative comes from American Beverage Association. Labeling this measure as repealing the “grocery tax” is a stretch, as it primarily benefits the soft-drink industry while cutting hundreds of millions of dollars from the state’s coffers. In these economic times, the state must raise revenue and cut expenses. This initiative does neither.

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Referendum 52

Vote no: On the surface, the bill is appealing. This bill promises to create $505 million in new grants to upgrade Washington schools with renovations that save money and energy. Supporters say the bill, which raises the state’s debt limit, will generate 30,000 construction jobs. However, the bill banks on the tax on bottled water — a tax that would be repealed if Initiative 1107 passes on this year’s ballot. Without that revenue source and safety net, the state is still on the hook for those grants sought by Referendum 52 while risking deeper debt. “This bill would authorize bonds to finance construction and repair projects increasing energy efficiency in public schools and higher education buildings, and continue the sales tax on bottled water otherwise expiring in 2013.”

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SJR 8225

Vote yes: This “debt limit” amendment allows Washington to take advantage of the federal government’s effort to pay some of the state’s interest bills on taxable bonds under the Build America Bonds program. The state has a limit on how much interest it can pay on debt, and this amendment clarifies what the state pays and what the federal government pays. “This amendment would require the state to reduce the interest accounted for in calculating the constitutional debt limit, by the amount of federal payments scheduled to be received to offset that interest.”

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ESHJR 4220

Vote yes: The amendment stems from the recent tragedy involving Maurice Clemmons, who gunned down four Lakewood police officers at a coffee shop just six days after being released on bail. This amendment, also known as the Lakewood Law Enforcement Memorial Act, would “authorize courts to deny bail for offenses punishable by the possibility of life in prison, on clear and convincing evidence of a propensity for violence that would likely endanger persons.”

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Charter amendments

King County Charter Amendment 1: Vote yes. This will clarify the county role in providing urban, rural and regional services. It could also establish a new position in the executive branch.

King County Charter Amendment 2: Vote yes. This will delete duplicate filing for candidates, thus saving money for taxpayers. Currently, candidates must file with the King County elections office, then again with the Public Disclosure Commission. If it passes, candidates would only file with the PDC.

King County Charter Amendment 3: Vote no. This would remove the executive from bargaining working conditions for the sheriff’s union and give authority to the sheriff. This will give the sheriff’s union political power over the sheriff come election time. The executive provides a needed buffer.

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King County Proposition No. 1

The proposal: This proposal calls for a 0.2 percent sales tax increase to help make up a shortfall of more than $60 million. If it passes, voters will end up paying about 9.7 cents in tax for every $1 purchase. If approved, the tax would save dozens of public safety positions, including 70 jobs in the sheriff’s office and 30 positions in Superior Court. Under the proposal, 40 percent of the tax would be distributed to cities in King County an a per-capita basis.

Vote no: Federal Way stands to gain about $1.9 million, according to the campaign. The county is essentially a business with a budget of $613 million. To address the financial shortfall, the county can either raise revenue with another tax or cut expenses. The latter makes more sense in these lean economic times as both the government and the people learn to live within their means. It hurts, but it must be done.

Pros: King County has cut $140 million over the last two budget cycles, which is about as financially austere as it can get. Rejecting this also means losing the ability to quickly process criminal cases, which means more jail costs for the county as inmates wait for trial. It also means the county will take out bonds or get creative in replacing the regional justice center, which is filled with asbestos and unable to be occupied.

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