In a democratic election, surpassing 50% is a win. A victory north of 60% is a mandate. Getting nearly 80% of the vote is a popular demand.
On Nov. 5, voters in Spokane were crystal clear about their demands regarding two of Washington state’s most contentious issues – opposition to an income tax and support for open collective bargaining negotiations. Spokane voter opinion was so strong it could cascade across the Cascades.
First, with more than 77% support – something unheard of in an election – voters have demanded and will receive open and transparent collective bargaining negotiations between the city and city unions. Despite the grumbling of hardline union leaders, the question of government openness is no longer up for discussion.
The action taken by voters will change the city charter. Collective bargaining negotiations between the city’s powerful unions and the city’s executive team have, until now, been done in secret, behind closed doors. This means an important and costly taxpayer expense was hidden until the final bill comes due.
That now changes. The public and the media will now be allowed to be in the room when the negotiations are taking place. The people’s money is at stake, and now they can listen-in to the conversations taking place to ensure both sides are arguing over public dollars in good faith.
Spokane becomes the first city in the state in which voters have weighed in and passed the openness policy. It has already been implemented by county commissions and school districts in places like Lincoln County, Kittitas County, Ferry County, Spokane County, Gig Harbor and the Pullman School District.
Spokane city leaders must now follow the overwhelming will of voters and open these negotiations, resisting any attempts by union officials to put up more roadblocks. This transparency reform should be one of the first priorities of the new Woodward administration. Union leaders are now on notice that nearly 80% of voters stand against them should they decide to try to resist the effort or play games as they have been doing for more than two years in neighboring Lincoln County.
Second, voters also sent a strong message in opposition to an income tax of any kind. Spokane became the first city in the state to approve a ban on a local income tax, slamming the door shut and throwing away the key by passing Proposition 2 with more than 72% of the vote.
This action was understandable given Seattle’s attempts to impose its own income tax, the recent Court of Appeals ruling allowing cities to adopt income taxes, and the Legislature’s continued attempts to impose a statewide capital gains income tax.
Spokane voters, just as state voters did 10 times before, said absolutely not to any future income tax. While the state’s largest city tries to implement an income tax, the state’s second largest city has ensured it will never have one. In the battle to attract highly-skilled, highly-paid workers, the Lilac City now has another competitive advantage.
Now, there is word that other local governments across the state might follow Spokane’s lead on these two critical issues – and for good reason. A statewide poll shows 76% of Washingtonians support “requiring collective bargaining negotiations for government employers to be open to the public.” Another poll shows nearly 70% of Washingtonians oppose an income tax.
The real question is whether legislators are paying attention. Some of the Legislature’s key leaders call Spokane and Eastern Washington home. Their constituents just adopted two important policy priorities that have statewide implications.
The passage of Propositions 1 and 2 in Spokane were not just routine ballot wins – they reflect demands that are echoing across the entire state. Lawmakers should listen.
Chris Cargill is the Eastern Washington director of Washington Policy Center, an independent research organization with offices in Spokane, the Tri-Cities, Seattle and Olympia. Online at washingtonpolicy.org.
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