Statewide ballot measures
Initiative 960: Initiative promoter Tim Eyman is returning to his time-tested formula: beating the drum against taxes. He argues that his measure simply holds state lawmakers accountable for tax decisions. Eyman’s opponents – including AARP, unions and environmental groups – say it’s a foolish scheme that will mire Olympia in bureaucracy, mislead voters and possibly trigger dozens of non-binding statewide votes each November.
The complex measure would:
“re-affirm an existing – but often bypassed – law requiring a two-thirds legislative vote to increase taxes,
“trigger extensive public notices on all tax-hike legislation,
“and require lawmakers to approve state-agency fee increases, large or small.
Also, the proposal tries to discourage lawmakers from declaring tax increases a state emergency – which makes them immune to a voter referendum – by triggering automatic statewide “advisory votes” in such cases.
The measure would apply to statewide taxes, like most of the sales tax and gas tax. But it would have little or no impact on taxes that are primarily local, like most property taxes, utility taxes and gambling taxes.
R-67: This spring, the Legislature approved a controversial new law that allows triple damages when an insurer wrongly denies a policyholder’s claim. Predicting a flurry of lawsuits, dozens of insurance companies and other groups have spent millions of dollars asking voters – via a statewide referendum – to veto the new law. Fighting to save the new law are dozens of attorneys and law firms.
The law covers many common types of insurance – homeowners’ policies, life insurance, auto coverage and business policies. It does not, however, cover health insurance. It also covers only those policyholders suing their own insurer.
The trial lawyers say the law is a critical counterbalance to the increasingly common strategy of insurers denying or delaying legitimate claims. Insurers say complaints are minimal and that if the law stands they’ll be forced to settle questionable claims, which will raise everyone’s insurance rates.
HJR 4204: If approved by voters the required 60 percent majority for school levies would be abolished, using the simple majority standard instead. It also would eliminate a separate hurdle that total voter turnout must be at least 40 percent.
Supporters say schools need the money and that it’s unfair to place the supermajority burden on education while entire sports stadiums can be approved with a simple majority. Opponents, including most Republican legislative leaders, contend making it easier to raise taxes sends the wrong message and is the wrong course to be setting.
SJR 8206: This would amend the state constitution to require that the state create and maintain an official “rainy day fund.” Spearheaded by Gov. Chris Gregoire, who championed an idea Republicans had pushed unsuccessfully in the Democrat-controlled Legislature in past years, the budget stabilization account would be filled by automatically diverting 1 percent of general state tax revenues into the account each year, an amount estimated at about $150 million annually.
It could be tapped only if 60 percent of lawmakers agree, if the economy is slumping and job growth is at a near standstill, or if the governor declares a state of emergency.
Supporters say it helps prepare the state for future economic downturns. Opponents argue the same goal could be accomplished without a ballot measure if lawmakers would show greater fiscal restraint.
SJR 8212: If approved, the state constitution would be amended to allow companies to resume manufacturing operations inside state prisons to take advantage of voluntary but cheap inmate labor. The state Supreme Court halted the private use of inmate labor in 2004, citing a constitutional provision dating back to chain-gang times.
Supporters say it helps inmates learn valuable job skills that they can use after serving time, and that the measure prohibits companies from using the cheap labor to compete unfairly against other companies. Opponents argue the measure fails to provide enough protections against unfair competition and that it exploits prisoners.
HJR 4215: If approved, it would give the state greater flexibility in where it invests money dedicated to schools from the sales and leases of timber, mining, grazing and so forth on public lands. Currently, profits from those activities on large swaths of land given to Washington state by the federal government in 1889 are prohibited from being invested in private stocks or bonds.
Supporters say it would give the state the ability to earn greater returns on its investments, which would aid education. Opponents argue it’s best to leave the money in stable investments “instead of gambling them in the stock market.”
Spokane County ballot measures
Proposition 1, Conservation Futures: Twice in 10 years Spokane County voters have told county commissioners they want to buy land for conservation. Now commissioners wonder whether they should stop asking. The Conservation Futures tax – 6 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value – likely will become permanent if voters consent in an advisory question on the Nov. 6 general election ballot. For the owner of a $150,000 home, the tax would cost $9 a year.
The tax will expire on Dec. 31 unless commissioners renew it. Supplemented with $4.2 million worth of grants, the tax has been used to purchase 4,296 acres of undeveloped land as natural buffers to urban areas and passive recreation areas.
Proposition 2, Emergency communications: Spokane County authorities say they need a 0.1 percent increase in the sales tax rate to upgrade emergency communication equipment, restore the popular Crime Check program and build a new digital radio network required of all emergency agencies by 2012. The tax hike would raise an estimated $7.5 million to $8 million a year.
Opponents say it would be giving politicians and bureaucrats a big “blank check” but supporters describe it as a “sustainable revenue source” for pressing public safety needs.
City of Spokane
Pools and parks bond: The city of Spokane wants $42.9 million to fix pools, create a new sports complex and add other park features. If approved by at least 60 percent of city voters, the property tax rate would increase by $2.36 per $1,000 of assessed value. A home assessed at $140,000 would increase by about $36 a year.
The money would pay to replace or rebuild the city’s five outdoor swimming pools and add a new outdoor pool – likely near Joe Albi Stadium. The funds also would build 10 spray pads, allow the city to build a sports complex promised almost a decade ago north of Albi, and improve or build baseball fields across the city.
Municipal facilities bond: The city is proposing a $3.7 million bond issue, which would add an estimated 75 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation to property taxes in Airway Heights to build a new city hall and turn the current structure, which city administration shares with the Fire Department, into an expanded fire station.
Supporters say it’s a needed addition for the rapidly growing city. Opponents say it’s a nice idea, but hardly a necessity to place the additional taxes on residents with fixed incomes.
Town of Spangle
Streets levy: Voters here are being asked to approve a one-year property tax assessment to pay for $20,000 of work on the town’s streets and lights. The cost to voters is estimated at $1.67 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, or $167 on a $100,000 home. The money would be collected in 2008, and needs a 60 percent supermajority to pass.
Spokane Valley Fire levy: The Valley’s largest fire department wants a 6-year increase in its levy to pay for upgrades and new stations. If approved, the district’s levy rate on property would climb to $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, up from the current $1.23 per $1,000. That would increase property taxes $54 a year on a home assessed at $200,000 and raise nearly $3.5 million in extra revenue in 2008, according to county assessor estimates.
District 3: Voters in this West Plains district are being asked to restore the original levy rate of $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value, which has been reduced to $1.37 per $1,000 by the 1 percent cap on annual increases in the fire district’s overall budget. If approved, it would generate an estimated $503,613 in additional revenue for the district next year, and would allow 6 percent annual increases over the next five years. The district serves the southwest corner of Spokane County.
District 5: Voters in another West Plains district also will decide whether to approve an EMS levy that will cost 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. It would raise $43,903 next year that supporters say will help the 90-square-mile fire district serve its growing population.
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