Spokane voters could get a hint from the Spokane City Council when deciding the fate of a citizens’ initiative on the November ballot.
The Spokane City Council will consider on Monday the addition of two nonbinding questions for the November election. The two proposals would ask voters how the council should respond to Envision Spokane’s Community Bill of Rights if it’s approved: Raise taxes or slash services.
The questions are the same as ones posed to voters two years ago when Envision Spokane first placed a Community Bill of Rights before voters. Envision's list failed in a landslide.
Envision Spokane leaders, who attribute the big defeat in 2009 in large part to the advisory questions, say adding them to the ballot again is meant only to turn voters against their initiative.
“It just proves that the system needs to change because they can in a stroke of a few minutes influence what we did over months of a hard work,” said Brad Read, president of Envision’s board.
But City Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin said not putting the questions on the ballot may give voters the impression that there no longer is a cost associated.
“I believe that we need to stay consistent with the message that Prop 1 may potentially cost the taxpayers a great deal of money.” McLaughlin said.
Read said that changes made in the new proposal should eliminate fears that the city would have to shift tax money to cover rights listed in the Envision’s proposal.
Removed from the 2009 Community Bill of Rights are stipulations that would have required the city of Spokane to guarantee residents affordable preventive health care, affordable housing and affordable and renewable energy.
The new list contains four rights, portions of which were in the 2009 proposal. They include extra requirements for the approval of certain kinds of development and “the right to a healthy Spokane River and aquifer.” One portion declares that corporations would “not be deemed as ‘persons’” and could not interfere with the enforcement of the Community Bill of Rights.
The City Council on Monday voted 5-2 to discuss McLaughlin’s proposal on Monday, the last chance the council has to add items to the November ballot.
Councilman Richard Rush argued that the questions should be tabled, an action that would have effectively stopped the questions from appearing on the ballot.
“We’re going to take a lot of testimony, Rush said. “We’re going to spend a lot of time next week essentially with a lot of emotional investment in somethingthat I wonder needs to be considered.”
Council President Joe Shogan expressed concerns about adding the questions to the ballot, but added that the public should get a chance to comment on McLaughlin’s proposal.
“Just as I am leery of interfering with the initiative process, I’m also one to give council members the right to speak on items they bring forward,” he said. “If we go to sleeping-bag-time ‘til 3 in the morning, then that’s just what we’re going to do.”
Shogan, McLaughlin and council members Bob Apple, Steve Corker and Amber Waldref voted to allow debate on Monday. Rush and Councilman Jon Snyder voted to table the questions.
McLaughlin said she was “highly offended” by Rush’s proposal to prevent debate.
“I know it’s going to offend a lot of people who want to come down and possibly speak to this issue,” McLaughlin said.
Just as in 2009, Envision Spokane’s plan remains without support from elected city leaders.
Council members, including Rush, and Mayor Mary Verner say some of the items are unspecific and leave the city open to litigation. Verner has been especially critical of the proposal’s insertion about corporations, which she said would pit city law against rulings for the U.S. Supreme Court and make the city vulnerable to a costly unwinnable court battle.
Even so, she said Monday that she opposes adding McLaughlin’s questions to the ballot.
“We should keep the ballot simple and let the proponents and opponents of Envision Spokane make their case,” she said.
Read said the city already deals with lawsuits on a regular basis on all sorts of topics.
“If it happened here, it would be in defense of the rights of the community, not just a handful,” Read said.