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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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If voters pass both liquor sales initiatives, heads will spin

Getting the state out of the liquor business is such a popular idea that voters have two chances to do it in the Nov. 2 election.

Based on their ballot titles, Initiatives 1100 and 1105 may seem close enough that anyone in favor of state-operated liquor stores could reasonably vote no on both.

One can make an argument for voting yes on one but not the other. Costco-card holders, for example, might be more fond of I-1100 on the theory that if their favorite discount house spent millions pushing the initiative, they may see some great deals on a case of booze.

But anyone who thinks the state should stick to core services – things like schools, prisons, roads and drawing numbers for the Lottery – may decide to fill in the “yes” ovals on both to double their chances of buying their liquor from someone not on the state payroll.

Then what happens? Suddenly, after decades of talking about getting the state out of the liquor business, we have not one but two laws ordering it out.

The short answer is – and we reporters love this because it’s like the political writers’ full employment act – no one knows.

Seriously. No. One. Knows.

Deputy Attorney General Jeff Even, the state’s expert on electoral laws, said neither the state constitution nor statutes address this possibility. The AG’s office studied it back in 1993 when two similar initiatives, I-601 and I-602, were on the ballot. They came up with some ideas but no ironclad determinations. They didn’t get to test them because 601 passed but 602 didn’t.

First thought was that sections unique to one or the other would take effect and the Legislature could straighten out any conflicts in similar statutes after the session starts next January. But state law requires any changes in the first two years after a citizens’ initiative passes to get a two-thirds majority. Getting that supermajority out of the Ledge next year is only slightly more likely than the Mariners playing in this year’s World Series.

So the next venue would be the courts, which would have no Washington statute or precedent to peruse. A judge might look for something kind of close, either in this state or another state that had the foresight to pass a law explaining what to do if two similar initiatives passed. (Most did, by the way.)

Washington does have a rule that applies when a petition drive sends an initiative to the Legislature, but the honorables refuse to approve it and put an alternative measure on the ballot along with the original. That law is similar to laws in many states for conflicting citizen initiatives. Simply put, if both get a majority, the one with the most votes wins. A court could apply that logic to any conflicting sections.

Guessing what courts will do is always a bit risky. They could come up with a creative solution, too, Even said.

I-1100 and I-1105 are not the only ballot measures that could create a conflict, by the way. Referendum 52 calls for the state to pay for energy-savings projects in schools and colleges with bonds that would be covered by continuing a temporary sales tax on bottled water after July 1, 2013. I-1107, however,would repeal the sales tax on bottled water this December.

It can be logically argued that if there is no tax on bottled water in 2013, it’s not possible to continue it. It could also be argued that without the tax, the bonds shouldn’t be sold and the projects scrapped. Or that voters approved the projects and the bonds, so the Legislature should re-levy the bottled water tax or come up with a new stream of revenue to honor the voters’ will.

So you have two chances on the November ballot to provide full employment for political reporters. Please vote accordingly.

Spin Control, a weekly column by political reporter Jim Camden, also appears online with daily items, reader comments and videos at
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