Backers of revenue cap initiative lose bid to change ballot wording

Initiative 1033: Judge finds no evidence of egregious error

September 12, 2009 

A judge on Friday denied a request by the sponsors of Initiative 1033 to correct what they say were errors in the fiscal impact statement to be distributed in the statewide voters pamphlet.

Thurston County Superior Court Judge Richard Hicks said he didn’t have authority to order state officials to change the statement without evidence of an egregious error.

“There may be differences of opinion,” he said. “I can’t say there is a clear error in the fiscal impact statement.”

The sponsors sought court orders requiring the director of the state Office of Financial Management to amend the statement and barring the secretary of state from publishing the drafted statement in the voters pamphlet.

Their attorney, Richard Stephens, offered two alternative remedies at the hearing: publish the drafted statement and note that a revised one will be available online, or publish it with a note that some of the assumptions in it are in dispute.

The state has said that had the litigation succeeded, it would have delayed delivery of the voters pamphlet.

Deputy solicitor general James Pharris said he couldn’t think of an instance in which a judge should order revisions to a fiscal impact statement unless it contains major errors.

“It’s out there for people to look at,” he said. “That’s better than second-guessing by a court.”

Paul Lawrence, an attorney for the No on I-1033 campaign, said the lawsuit was politically motivated. He added that had it succeeded, it could have resulted in fiscal impact statements filled with asterisks if every affected party took exception to their assumptions.

“That doesn’t make any sense, and it’s not workable,” he said.

Sponsors say the statement contains errors that assume limits on the amount of revenue that falls under the initiative.

Initiative 1033 would cap the growth in revenue funneled to state and local governments’ general funds, based on an annual rate of inflation and population growth. Any revenue over that limit would be used to lower property taxes the following year unless voters decide otherwise.

OFM estimated the initiative would cost state government $5.9 billion in tax revenues, and cities and counties nearly $2.8 billion in receipts by 2015. Corresponding amounts would be diverted to separate accounts used to pay down the amounts levied as property taxes.

Initiative sponsor Tim Eyman said those figures probably would be larger. He cited a report released Thursday by the Washington Research Council that estimated OFM’s assumptions would preclude $30 million in state spending and 10 percent and 17 percent of the general funds for cities and counties, respectively.

Eyman characterized the ruling as a victory for the sponsors. He said that if they hadn’t raised issues with the assumptions, they could have become part of the “legislative history” and potentially reshaped the initiative if it were to become law.

Christian Hill: 360-754-5427

chill@theolympian.com

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