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Big Business Is Split Over Initiative 164

Some of the state’s largest businesses and business associations say they will stay out of the fight over a property rights initiative.

Backers of the effort to overturn I-164 say they have the signatures they need to put the measure before voters in November.

“We’re just working on gathering more signatures now, for a cushion,” said John Lamson, spokesman for Referendum 48. More than 90,000 signatures will be presented to the secretary of state next Friday, a day before the deadline.

“We are absolutely confident we will be on the ballot.” The initiative, passed by the Legislature last winter, requires taxpayers to pay property owners for any loss in property value due to regulation.

The measure also requires a comprehensive impact analysis to be done, at public expense, before any new regulation can be adopted. And it pushes the cost of maps, plans, and other studies required for review of development projects on to taxpayers.

Businesses aren’t rushing to join the campaign against the initiative.

Some said they never expected, or wanted I-164 to be passed by the Legislature as written; they had hoped an alternative measure would be approved. As it stands, I-164 is too vague and far-reaching to get behind, some said.

Others figured big businesses can’t possibly shake the public down for cash payments, as the measure allows, without suffering dire public relations consequences.

“A lot of the big companies are looking at this thing saying, ‘We couldn’t get away with that, even if this thing stuck,”’ said Michael Luis of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce.

Opponents are calling I-164 the biggest tax increase in history.

Its backers say the measure is needed to protect property owners from over-zealous regulators. “This is protection property owners across this state need,” said Tom McCabe of the Building Industry Association, which helped bankroll the signature drive that put I-164 before the Legislature.

But some of the state’s biggest businesses, including the Weyerhaeuser Co., argue the measure goes too far.

“Obviously private property rights are of critical importance to us. But we recognize and support reasonable regulation of private lands,” said Frank Mendizabal, spokesman for Weyerhaeuser, the largest private timberland owner in the world.

“We are concerned that I-164 is too ambiguous, and too broad.”

The Boeing Co. is also taking a neutral position on I-164. So is the Association of Washington Business, which represents every large business in the state.

“One big concern of our members is that I-164 will just send everything to the courts, and you’ll have judges making law, which is the worst outcome for everyone,” said Don Brunell, president of the association.

“The way this thing is written creates problems for everyone. It’s too vague, too broad. And some people feel it over-reached.”

The Seattle chamber, which represents 2,600 businesses, including the state’s largest companies, is sharply divided over I-164, Luis said.

“We have members say ‘We’ve been trying for years to get a property rights law on the books, let’s defend it,”’ and others who say ‘This thing is so poorly drafted it’s a disaster, don’t touch it.”’

Bill Jacobs of the Washington Forest Protection Association, which represents the state’s timber companies, said he didn’t want the Legislature to pass I-164 as written.

“We were hoping they would develop an alternative, but they did not,” Jacobs said of the Legislature. “That way you would have had a more deliberative process, and would have been much more likely to have a proposal that would withstand opponents’ arguments.

“Instead we are faced with I-164 as written.”

The majority of the state’s biggest timber companies gave heavily to the I-164 signature campaign, to get the measure before the Legislature.

Jacobs said the timber association will meet next week to see if it will back the initiative, now that it looks like it will be on the ballot.

Because it was passed as an initiative to the Legislature, the measure never went to the governor for consideration. It becomes law automatically this month, unless enough voters sign petitions to put the measure on the ballot this November.

Voters who want to get involved in the campaign to put I-164 on the ballot may call the No on 164 Committee, at (206) 223-3728.

To defend I-164, call Citizens for Property Rights at (206) 956-1424.

, DataTimes

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