Getting the state out of the liquor business is such a popular idea that voters have two chances to do it in the Nov. 2 election.
Based on their ballot titles, Initiatives 1100 and 1105 may seem close enough that anyone in favor of state-operated liquor stores could reasonably vote no on both.
One can make an argument for voting yes on one but not the other. Costco card holders, for example, might be more fond of I-1100, on the theory that if their favorite discount house spent millions pushing the intitiative, they may see some great deals on a case of booze.
But anyone who thinks the state should stick to core services – things like schools, prisons, roads and drawing numbers for the Lottery – may decide to fill in the “yes” ovals on both to double their chances of buying their liquor from someone not on the state payroll.
Then what happens? Suddenly, after decades of talking about getting the state out of the liquor business, we have not one but two laws ordering it out.
The short answer is – and we reporters love this because it’s like the political writers’ full employment act – no one knows.
Seriously. No. One. Knows…
Deputy Attorney General Jeff Even, who is the state’s expert on
electoral laws, said neither the state Constitution nor statutes address
this possibility. The AG’s office studied it back in 1993 when two
similar initiatives, I-601 and I-602, were on the ballot. They came up
with some ideas but no iron-clad determinations. And they didn’t get to
test them because 601 passed but 602 didn’t.
First thought was that sections that are unique to one or the other
would take effect and the Legislature could straighten out any conflicts
in similar statutes after the session starts next January. But state
law requires any changes in the first two years after a citizens’
initiative passes to get a two-thirds majority and getting that
supermajority out of the Ledge next year is only slightly more likely
than the Mariners playing in this year’s World Series.
So the next venue would be the courts, which would have no Washington
statute or precedent to peruse. So a judge might look for something kind
of close, either in this state or another state that also allows
initiatives but had the foresight to pass a law explaining what to do if
two similar ones passed. (Most did, by the way.)
Washington does have a rule that applies when a petition drive sends an
initiative to the Legislature, but the honorables refuse to approve it
and put an alternative measure on the ballot along with the original.
That law is similar to laws in many states for conflicting citizen
initiatives. Simply put, if both get a majority, the one with the most
votes wins. A court could apply that logic to any conflicting sections.
Guessing what courts will do is always a bit risky. Even said they could come up with a creative solution, too.
I-1100 and I-1105 are not the only ballot measures that could create a
conflict, by the way. Referendum 52 calls for the state to pay for bonds
that would fund energy-savings projects in schools and colleges by
continuing the new sales tax on bottled water after July 1, 2013. I-1107
repeals the sales tax on bottled water this December.
It can be logically argued that if there is no tax on bottled water in
2013, it’s not possible to continue it. It could also be argued that
without the tax, the bonds shouldn’t be sold and the projects scrapped.
Or that voters approved the projects and the bonds, so the Legislature
should re-levy the bottled water tax or come up with a new stream of
revenue to honor the voters’ will. Legislators love to talk about
honoring the voters’ will.
So you have two chances on the November ballot to provide full employment for political reporters. Please vote accordingly.