Offering daily news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Right-wing think tanks plotting Eymanesque campaign against our cities and counties

Last week, reporters for The Guardian pulled the curtain back on a network of well-funded, well-organized right-wing think tanks and their extreme agenda.

Documents obtained by The Guardian show the blandly-named State Policy Network is working to undermine education, healthcare, and revenue collection in nearly every state in the country. Their specific proposals are extremely radical, from privatizing schools to gutting public healthcare.

The Guardian’s report also shows how this network’s Washington affiliates plan to launch the next phase of their attack on our economic security and our democracy.

The State Policy Network is a creation of the notorious American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and is funded by right-wing donors including the Koch Brothers to impose extremist policies at the state level, bypassing a federal government where Democrats remain powerful enough to block this radical agenda.

Here in Washington, the State Policy Network has two affiliates: the Freedom Foundation and the Washington Policy Center.

Both of these groups are well known for their right-wing policy agenda and their desire to dismantle and destroy Washington’s progressive achievements.

The Guardian’s reporting details two new lines of attack we can expect from these think tanks, based on grant requests they submitted to the State Policy Network. The Freedom Foundation wants to launch a new campaign claiming that cities and counties are somehow “borrowing beyond their means” – trying to bring the logic of austerity to local government, demanding we cut back on spending to address some supposed borrowing problem that does not actually exist.

The Washington Policy Center is planning a campaign to take Tim Eyman’s unconstitutional 2/3 rule for tax increases to the local level, hoping to get more local governments to enact a supermajority requirement to raise revenue.

We don’t know whether the State Policy Network agreed to fund these campaigns, but they have funded other campaigns for these think tanks in the past.

Thanks to The Guardian, we know what they’re up to, and have an opportunity to anticipate these attacks and stop them before they succeed.

The Freedom Foundation’s attempt to smear the fiscal health of local governments is easily debunked. Local governments in Washington State have been borrowing money appropriately and their credit ratings remain strong.

Seattle and King County, for example, both have AAA ratings.

The Freedom Foundation seeks to destroy local public services through cuts to vital public services, but knows that Washingtonians like these services and do not want to see them undermined. In order to overcome that resistance, the Freedom Foundation knows they must portray cities and counties as in bad financial shape, which is why they want money to launch a campaign to concoct an entirely fictional story of local governments borrowing beyond their means.

Earlier this year the Supreme Court declared the two-thirds supermajority requirement at the heart of Tim Eyman’s I-601 clones to be unconstitutional. But it looks like the Washington Policy Center is undaunted by the LEV decision, as they are now seeking to impose the same undemocratic scheme on cities and counties.

We don’t have to look far to see how creating an undemocratic threshold for raising revenue can cause big problems.

Many cities in California are in dire straits because neither local elected officials nor voters can raise revenue without a two-thirds vote. Getting to 66.67% in any election is a tough hurdle, and in any other situation, anything that gets more than 60% of voter support is considered to have won in a landslide.

Yet just last year, a proposal to fund a major expansion of mass transit in Los Angeles “failed” because it got 66.11% of the vote, just short of the two-thirds threshold. If levies or revenue proposals in Washington required a two-thirds vote, decisions about funding vital public schools like schools or police, fire, and emergency medical response would end up in the hands of the few, not the many.

These proposed campaigns also show how Washington’s right-wing think tanks exist to advance the agenda of wealthy national donors, rather than the interests of the people of the Evergreen State. These think tanks have had a lot of success shaping the agenda in other states, and in places like Wisconsin and Michigan are key to the Tea Party’s war on economic security. They haven’t had as much success in the Pacific Northwest… yet. But they are coming for us.

We need to be ready to stop them.

8 Comments

  1. Gretchen Anna Sand
    Posted December 10th, 2013 at 1:59 PM | Permalink

    Tell me how I can help!

  2. Posted December 10th, 2013 at 5:41 PM | Permalink

    Robert Cruickshank’s report needs to be read by our progressive mayors and city and county council elected officials around the state. WPC and the “Freedom” Foundation are not about good policy or freedom for Washingtonians. Their stealth strategies undermine local control and local decision-making — the kind of grass-roots governing we like out here in the Pacific NW. Our non-partisan local politics are perfect targets for infiltration from the likes of the Koch Brothers. Our local elected officials tend to want to govern and will look for compromise solutions. But this is a concerted effort to undermine our confidence in our local elected officials – and we must do more than protect. We have to advance with our own ideas and agenda to make progress. Winning is the very best response.

  3. Glen Morgan
    Posted December 11th, 2013 at 9:50 AM | Permalink

    I’m working on this study, and I helped draft the request to better understand municipal debt. If anyone out there wants to send me information, please feel free to do so. It shouldn’t be a secret. We’ve been working on these issues for 20 years. Your help to make this study as complete as possible is greatly appreciated.

  4. Bob T.
    Posted December 11th, 2013 at 11:27 AM | Permalink

    Democracy sucks when people vote for things that you don’t like.

    And get your facts straight — the 2/3 requirement was found unconstitutional for state government, but that doesn’t mean it’s unconstitutional for local governments. Let the voters decide. That’s what democracy looks like.

  5. Posted December 11th, 2013 at 12:50 PM | Permalink

    The two thirds vote campaign is already underway in this state. Pierce County voters passed it, it’s in place in Spokane and voters in Yakima passed it on this year’s November ballot. It is happening under the radar of progressives for the most part, as there has been little campaigning against it. Time to wake up for sure. Thanks for helping to publicize what’s happening.

  6. Steve Edwards
    Posted December 11th, 2013 at 3:29 PM | Permalink

    Last time I looked, this country was NOT a democracy, but a representative republic. Learn the difference before you rail against the system. Collective thinking, also known as mob rule, is what got us $17 trillion in debt…a debt that no amount of ‘borrowing’ can ever repay. Yes, it is time to wake up, but to the fact that progressive ideas are bankrupting cities and states.

  7. Posted December 11th, 2013 at 9:01 PM | Permalink

    A vast right wing conspiracy! Wow! That’s fun.

  8. Andrew
    Posted December 12th, 2013 at 7:46 PM | Permalink

    Ah, Steve. Every once in a while someone like you comes along and makes the hilarious claim that America is not a democracy. Actually, America is a democracy, because a republic is a democracy. We’ve covered this before over at Permanent Defense.

    If you look at actual data, Steve, you’ll see that deficits balloon while Republican presidents are in charge and shrink when Democratic presidents (who are much more progressive than Republicans) are in charge. It turns out that tax cuts for the wealthy, generous subsidies for big corporations, and trickle-down economics don’t work! It’s time for a return to progressive economics and fiscal responsibility at all levels of government. We at NPI will do all we can to prevent communities from losing the ability to democratically enact responsible budgets that fund our vital public services.