General Election 2010 Ballot Measures in Washington State

Posted 18 October 2010 by
2010 Ballot in Snohomish County, Washington

2010 Ballot in Snohomish County, Washington

Here are my recommendations for the ballot measures in the 2010 General Election in Washington State.

Read the 2010 Online Voters’ Guide from the State of Washington.

We have a problem in Washington State. The idea behind citizen-sponsored initiatives and referenda were to counteract the control over the legislature exercised by those interests with money. The needs of the average citizen could not be overrun by money.

Today we have those interests with money bypassing trying to control the legislature and directly trying to influence the voter. Do you really think those paying for these ballot measures are presenting a balanced view to voters? It would be a bad investment if you presented both sides, don’t you think?

This thought underlies my opinion on the ballot measures we have in 2010.

Is it any better if citizens enact unconstitutional measures? Does it make bad policy better if people vote on it?

Initiative Measure 1053

Recommendation

Vote no.

What is proposed

“Initiative Measure No. 1053 concerns tax and fee increases imposed by state government. 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.”

Reasons

It is unconstitutional. The Washington State Constitution, Article II, Section 9, Rules of Procedure, says, “Each house [of the legislature] may determine the rules of its own proceedings….” We need a constitutional amendment to force rules of procedure on each house of the legislature (if it was a good idea to do this).

Just because there has not been a case in court over this does not mean it is constitutional. It is only untested.

The only thing this measure does is to make the legislature an inefficient body.

Initiative Measure 1082

Recommendation

Vote no.

What is proposed

“Initiative Measure No. 1082 concerns industrial insurance. This measure would authorize employers to purchase private industrial insurance beginning July 1, 2012; direct the legislature to enact conforming legislation by March 1, 2012; and eliminate the worker-paid share of medical-benefit premiums.”

Reasons

I strongly recommend reading the voters’ guide on this one. The reason is not because I think the guide is crystal clear. The reason is the confusing fiscal statement.

This measure, said to decrease costs for business, will cost the state more than $100 million to license and regulate these new private insurers than current costs. This is after increased tax collections from private insurers. The state has to recover that cost.

There are questions about exemptions from insurance regulations which are troubling, if true. The voters’ guide does not help clear up the debate.

Current state law permits employers to collect half of the medical premium from employees. Why would we want to increase business costs for small businesses by forcing them to pay all of the premiums?

This is a complicated subject. Insurance companies that write workers compensation insurance wrote the law. Most of us are not lawyers and insurance actuaries so we would know what they really proposed. 

Initiative Measure 1098

Recommendation

Vote yes, but reluctantly. 

What is proposed

“Initiative Measure No. 1098 concerns establishing a state income tax and reducing other taxes. 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.”

Reasons

“Taxes are what we pay for civilized society.”

—Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.,
in Compania General De Tobaccos De Filipinas
v. Collector of Internal Revenue, 275 U.S. 87, 100 (1927).

From my point of view, we need to strive for an equitable system of taxation across all classes of people. An income tax can bring the equity we now lack.

There are serious questions about this initiative’s constitutionality. A previous income tax in Washington was invalidated by the state courts because of a US court decision and the Washington constitution (Article VII, Section 1). Overturning the US court decision now makes the previous decision invalidating the income tax questionable. Because of the question, we need to vote yes so the legality of an income tax can be decided again, based upon current law.

Increasing the exemption for business and occupation taxes for small business is a great idea. Because this is a gross receipts tax, a business can be losing money and still need to pay the business and occupations tax.

Having said that, this measure disappoints me. Reducing the state sales tax rate from an income tax would go further to spur the economy that reducing property taxes. Still, you have to deal the hand you were dealt, not the hand you would like.

If this passes and withstands court challenges, maybe the legislature could impose the tax on lower adjusted income levels (maybe down to $100,000) with a reduction in state sales taxes.

Initiative Measures 1100 and 1105

Recommendation

Vote no on both.

What is proposed

“Initiative Measure No. 1100 concerns liquor (beer, wine and spirits). This measure would close state liquor stores; authorize sale, distribution, and importation of spirits by private parties; and repeal certain requirements that govern the business operations of beer and wine distributers and producers.”

“Initiative Measure No. 1105 concerns liquor (beer, wine and spirits). This measure would close all state liquor stores and license private parties to sell or distribute spirits. It would revise laws concerning regulation, taxation and government revenues from distribution and sale of spirits.”

Reasons

With two conflicting measures, we cannot predict what happens if both pass in November. The state constitution is silent. One school of thought says the legislature has to work it out, but it is not certain. This means a feature found in only one bill may not be in the final legislation. So, to vote for both means you do not know what you are voting to approve.

Individually, each bill has serious problems. It is predicted that the number of liquor stores per person in Washington State would be more than three times the number in California per person. No one is debating that number. How much will it cost to enforce liquor laws in that many outlets?  

The current system generates $350 million annually to support state services. If those taxes goes away, how much more crowded do we make classrooms? Which public health services go away?

Are any adults having that much trouble buying liquor now? The state-owned stores and contract outlets are distributed well over all the state.

Meanwhile, Washington has the best success at keep hard liquor away from juveniles. How many lives are we saving this way?

Why change the current system until we have a coherent alternative that keeps services where they are now?

Initiative Measure 1107

Recommendation

Vote no.

What is proposed

“Initiative Measure No. 1107 concerns reversing certain 2010 amendments to state tax laws. 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.”

Reasons

Yes, that bill was real sausage grinding. Unfortunately, special interests threatening our legislature with initiatives and referenda cannot deal with taxes like adults. Instead, the legislature has to deal with a spoiled bunch of children all screaming at the top of their lungs.

I have not noticed any difference in prices resulting from the temporary taxes. Has anyone else? The markup on a can of soda in a store is much, much more than the $0.02 levied by the state in a temporary tax.

Meanwhile, this bill taxes some products at a lower business and occupations tax rate.

The increased temporary taxes provide some replacement revenue for classrooms and to healthcare. It is not painful. 

Referendum Bill 52

Recommendation

Vote yes.

What is proposed

“The legislature has passed Engrossed House Bill No. 2561, concerning authorizing and funding bonds for energy efficiency projects in schools. 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.”

Reasons

It would be great if the legislature could directly deal with this for schools and universities. Using a bottled water tax to pay for this is silly. Bottled water is not environmentally friendly. But, how else do you pay for this in the toxic tax environment in Washington?

Energy efficiency means saving money for heating and cooling. There is some evidence that these changes would improve learning in schools. 

Those bottles of water would be sold anyway. We might as well get some environmental benefit from it.

Senate Joint Resolution 8225

Recommendation

Vote yes.

What is proposed

“The legislature has proposed a constitutional amendment concerning the limitation on state debt. 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.”

Reasons

The objection is primarily based on the federal program prompting this proposed change. They say the program will not last forever.

That is true. And, when that happens, the provisions of this change will not make any difference.

So, why not approve it?

Engrossed Substitute House Joint Resolution 4220

Recommendation

Vote yes.

What is proposed

“The legislature has proposed a constitutional amendment on denying bail for persons charged with certain criminal offenses. This amendment 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.”

Reasons 

Lakewood, Washington, Police Patch

Lakewood, Washington, Police Patch

Slain Lakewood Police Officers

Lakewood Police officers Greg Richards (top left), Mark Renninger (top right), Tina Griswold (bottom right) and Ronald Owens (bottom left) were shot and killed at a coffee shop in Parkland, Washington, on Sunday, November 29, 2009.

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