OLYMPIA – The Legislature is considering a proposal that seems like a bad idea as written, but if one thinks of it as only half an idea, it might be excellent. Taken to a logical conclusion, it could even help with the state’s budget crisis.
Senate Bill 6665 would raise the $5 fee people must pay when they file a state ballot initiative or referendum. The fee has been five bucks since Washington started the initiative process back in 1912, said Theresa Glidden of the Secretary of State’s Elections Division.
An inflation calculator estimates that a fiver in 1912 would buy about $108 worth of stuff today. So there’s no debate the initiative fee has not kept up with inflation.
The Legislature is considering raising it to $250, based not so much by applying the Consumer Price Index but as a result of looking at what some other states charge to file: Alaska is $100, while Wyoming, Florida and Michigan are $500. (Idaho, Oregon and Montana are free, but supporters get to cherry- pick the state they want to be compared with.)
A sponsor would have to put up $250 at filing but would get $200 back if the initiative actually makes it to the ballot.
People who are fond of initiatives, including the state’s premier initiative sponsor, Tim Eyman, suggest this would put initiatives out of reach for ordinary citizens. Bill supporters like Sen. Joe McDermott, D-Seattle, suggest it would keep people like Eyman, who files multiple versions of initiatives on the same topic some years, from “title shopping,” while paying for some administrative costs of researching each proposal.
Much of last week’s hearing was devoted to the state’s populist heritage and the strain the growing number of initiatives puts on staff resources. But in the midst of it all, Eyman offered an interesting counter: “Let’s put a fee on legislative proposals.”
While Spin Control has taken shots at Eyman in the past, when he’s onto something – even if he was only being ironic – it seems only right to say so. The issue is fairness. An initiative is merely legislation approved by voters; it has the same legal status as a bill approved by legislators. So if initiative sponsors can have their fee raised from $5 to $250 for filing an initiative, why not charge $250 for any bill, resolution or joint memorial now filed for free in the Legislature?
True, some pretty silly initiatives are filed every year. But not all legislative work channels the spirit of Thomas Jefferson or Daniel Webster, either. Some are introduced knowing they have no chance of passing or even getting a vote. They’re for show, to make a political point or to satisfy a constituency back home.
A legislator could use leftover campaign money, or open a separate account with the Public Disclosure Commission, and groups that want to legalize marijuana or outlaw abortion could donate to a legislator who promised to sponsor legislation they agree with. If a bill isn’t forthcoming, the money would go back.
Co-sponsors could share fees on a proportional basis, so that a bill with 10 co-sponsors would only cost an individual senator or rep $25. The more co-sponsors, the less the cost – and the greater the chance of passage. It might be fair for the prime sponsor, who is listed first, to kick in a bit more, but that’s something legislators could work out themselves.
If the state Pickle Society wants a resolution declaring Washington Kosher Dill Week, it could shop for a legislator willing to introduce the resolution, pony up the $250, and get all but $50 back after the Legislature falls all over itself extolling the virtues of Vlasics.
While this would not be a gold mine, neither is it chump change. Two weeks into the Legislature’s short 60-day session, we’re at 1,540 pieces of legislation and counting, with more than 4,550 since the biennial session started last January. At $250 a pop, that’s $1,137,000 that would have been ponied up. Even after giving back the $151,000 for the 600 or so bills that have passed, the state would still be nearly a million ahead.
Some people might argue that this would lead to the best Legislature money can buy.
To which I’d say: And your point is?