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Spin Control: Washington could benefit from ballot measure boom

OLYMPIA – Washington is developing into THE PLACE for interest groups of every political stripe to try out their ballot initiative.

From gun control to same-sex marriage to legalized marijuana, national organizations have decided they love a state big enough to test out their legislation on a diverse population, but small enough to have relatively few media markets (the term campaign types use for cities) and relatively affordable ad rates.

Thus we see corporate agriculture and the organic food industry preparing to spend millions on a food labeling initiative. They’ll likely subscribe to the Costco theory of ballot politics, which says that if you spend enough money, and try enough times, you can convince Washington voters to pass almost anything.

It’s not a terrible thing to have outside interests using their money trying to tell Washington voters what to do. But considering the state’s economic woes over the last several years, it seems fair to point out we do not get the full benefit of that largesse.

Yes, the local television stations – and to some extent radio stations, and even newspapers – haul in some money for the ads. But campaigns spend big bucks on many other things, like polling and consulting and commercial production, and for many campaigns, that money goes to companies thousands of miles away. Even what would seem to be the most local of initiative-related activities, paying people to gather signatures, is sometimes farmed out to out-of-state companies, or paid to seminomadic name-beggars who travel the initiative states like latter-day Joads.

If the Legislature truly wants to boost the economy and help local businesses – which based on pronouncements at press conferences or floor speeches over the last six months are Jobs 1 and 1A for some members and no lower than Job 3 for the rest – they should consider tapping this.

If Washington is going to be to ballot politics what Boeing is to jetliners and the Palouse is to soft white wheat, the state should require a healthy chunk – let’s make it a supermajority because that’s so fashionable – of all money raised be spent in the state, by companies located in the state, who employ people who live in the state. Any campaign that doesn’t do that in any given month could be subject to a fee – we won’t call it a tax or Republicans won’t consider it – equal to 10 percent of that month’s receipts.

Clarifying on the estate tax

Last week’s column on possible budget movement in the moribund Legislature included a brief reference to a recently passed change in the estate tax designed to overcome a state Supreme Court ruling that was about to require refunds to some families.

A member of one of those families took issue with the short-handed way a so-called “technical glitch” in the estate tax law was described, and thought it made the families who stood to get refunds seem like “a bunch of wealthy people trying to dodge a legitimate tax.”

If anyone drew that inference, it wasn’t the intent. The trusts were set up in good faith and people who challenged the law obviously had firm legal ground on which to stand. Although the column didn’t mention it, previous stories on the estate tax problem pointed out that many people, including some legislators, doubt whether the new law can be applied retroactively.

That’s something for at least five members of the state Supreme Court to decide. I wouldn’t bet on the outcome of such a challenge, but am willing to offer very good odds there will be one.

It’s got a good beat …

For the Legislature’s budget negotiators, it was a busy week. And those not negotiating? Well, some of them kept busy, too.

Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn, is the floor leader, which means he has the job of moving things along for the Majority Coalition Caucus, even if that’s just moving to accept yesterday’s journal and adjourn until the next day. He used some of his free time to put together a music video to drum up support for the caucus stand on a budget without new taxes. 

It could use a bit more video to go with the music. But the tune is at least catchy. You can find it and other videos online at blogs/spincontrol.

Spin Control is a weekly column by Olympia reporter Jim Camden.