OLYMPIA – Political leaders in Olympia who are considering an overhaul of the state’s popular initiative system said Thursday that voters need to be responsible for identifying the money that will pay for the policies they approve.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers proposed a constitutional amendment that would require ballot measures to have their own funding sources. The Legislature and Gov. Chris Gregoire have expressed frustration with voter-approved laws that require hundreds of millions of dollars in spending, with no way to pay the bill.
“People don’t realize the consequences,” said Senate Republican Leader Mike Hewitt.
Just last month, the public gave overwhelming approval to an expansion of training for long-term care workers, despite opposition from a variety of leaders including Gregoire and Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna. The measure, which passed in every county in the state, costs about $18 million over the next two years but has no money allocated for the program.
Initiative 1163 passed despite a $1.4 billion shortfall. To deal with the state’s budget, Gregoire is proposing a shortened school year, the early release of prisoners and the elimination of some social services programs.
Adam Glickman, a spokesman for the union that represents care workers and supported Initiative 1163, said his group was interested in new initiative rules, as long as they had similar restrictions for measures cutting the budget. For example, if an initiative eliminates a tax or funding source, the proposal would have to detail an area to cut.
“We’d be open to considering a change in the initiative process that required any initiatives to ultimately be budget neutral,” Glickman said.
A ballot measure approved by voters in 2010 repealed taxes on candy, gum, pop, bottled water and some processed foods. That left the state with a $218 million hole in the two-year cycle.
Initiative guru Tim Eyman, who typically promotes measures that restrict government spending, said he opposes the idea of requiring a funding source.
“The problem down in Olympia is not the initiative process,” Eyman said. “The problem is that they don’t prioritize spending.”
Gregoire said she would probably support such a constitutional amendment, saying the public needs to be as responsible for finding the money as the Legislature would be.
She noted that she inherited initiatives with policy ideas that she supported – for example, Initiative 732, approved a decade ago, requires annual cost-of-living adjustments for education workers – but had no way to pay for them.