August 17, 2011 in Opinion

Editorial: Council fair in deciding not to add ballot items

 

The Spokesman-Review Editorial Board

Members of The Spokesman-Review editorial board help to determine The Spokesman-Review's position on issues of interest to the Inland Northwest. Board members are:

The Spokane City Council made an equitable decision in deciding Monday night to forgo adding two ballot questions that relate to Envision Spokane’s proposal to enshrine a Community Bill of Rights in the charter.

This is Envision Spokane’s second attempt, though it is scaled back from the 2009 ballot measure. This version would grant individuals rights to neighborhood protections against development, collective bargaining for laborers and a clean river and aquifer. It also precludes corporations from infringing on these rights.

The 2009 measure – Proposition 4 – was overwhelmingly rejected by voters. The Spokesman-Review editorial board urged a no vote. All City Council members opposed it. However, proponents are correct when they say that the council tipped the balance by adding two presumptuous questions to the ballot that asked voters whether they wanted to cut services or raise taxes if the proposition passed.

The issue of whether Proposition 4 would’ve caused such actions was part of the debate. By placing those questions on the ballot, the council, in effect, said the question was settled. This, in turn, put the council in the position of using public resources to cast a negative light on a voter initiative.

This time the council rejected two similar ballot questions, so voters will get a clean up-or-down vote on whether the community needs a bill of rights. If the measure passes and new costs materialize, the council can still ask voters how they want to pay for these rights.

We share the trepidation about how such general rights backed with vague language can be implemented and enforced. The measure would appear to be a recipe for endless lawsuits, with lawyers capitalizing on fuzzy concepts to collect big fees. Like last time, no council members have come out in support of this effort, which is a solid indicator of its impracticality.

But these are all arguments that can be made in the course of the campaign. On the primary election ballot, the council just asked voters to approve various changes to the charter without also being asked how to react to potential costs.

Voters decide many issues that impact government budgets without having to simultaneously choose how to pay. Statewide, they’ve decided to roll back the price of car tabs, endorse annual raises for teachers and smaller class sizes and adopt a supermajority requirement for tax increases. In none of those cases were voters asked to choose what adjustments legislators should make. Instead, the potential impacts became part of those campaigns’ debates.

The council was heavy-handed two years ago. This time it made the right choice by stepping back and trusting voters to make an informed decision.


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