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

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Initiative 960: Unconstitutional, Unfair, Unsound (Part II)

Welcome to Part II of our pre-election special series on Initiative 960 (Unconstitutional, Unfair, Unsound).

Each post in this series will briefly focus on a different conflict between the language of Tim Eyman's right wing scheme to paralyze Washington and our state's constitution, which trumps any statute (whether it be a citizen initiative or a bill passed out of the Legislature) when there is a contradiction.

Yesterday, we looked at the the main intent of I-960: to give control over important budgeting decisions over to a minority of elected lawmakers. In today's installment, we'll explore a second constitutional infringement: I-960's attempt to create a new type of ballot measure.

In the hopes of stirring up voter frustration with the Legislature and state government, I-960's sponsors devised a gimmick to force public votes on revenue increases that do make it through the statehouse with a supermajority. If the revenue increase isn't referred to the people by the Legislature, it automatically goes on the ballot anyway.

But there's a catch: the advisory votes are non-binding, which means they have no legal effect. They would just be meaningless polls on our ballots.

Not only is this scheme a waste of money, but it is also a trick: many voters will undoubtedly be fooled into thinking their votes would actually have an impact, when that won't be the case. It's a clever gimmick: too clever to be constitutional.

The following table explains the meaning of the language (Fundamental Law) excerpts the actual text in the relevant section of the state Constitution, and highlights where Eyman's proposal is in conflict (As Illegally Amended by I-960).

Fundamental LawThe State ConstitutionAs Illegally Amended
Referendum can be called only by the Legislature or by submission of requisite signatures by a citizen or group of citizens. "The second power reserved by the people is, the referendum, and it may be ordered ... either by petition signed by the required percentage of the legal voters, or by the legislature as other bills are enacted ... The number of valid signatures of registered voters required on a petition for referendum of an act of the legislature or any part thereof, shall be equal to or exceeding four percent of the votes cast for the office of governor at the last gubernatorial election..."

Ref: Article II, Section 1(b)
-- Binding referendum is automatic (no signatures required) for Legislative action that “raises taxes” (as defined by I-960) and will result in expenditures in excess of state expenditure limits (as modified by I-960).

Ref: I-960 Text § 5(1), (2) (a), (5)

-- Non binding referendum is automatic (no signatures required) for all legislative action “raising taxes” that is not subject to a binding referendum. This includes any time a referendum proponent is unsuccessful in collecting sufficient signatures to call a binding referendum.

Ref: I-960 Text § 6

As we can see from the table above, Article II of the Constitution clearly establishes the mechanisms of direct democracy, the initiative and the referendum, and specifies how each may be called.

I-960's "advisory votes" amount to a new type of referendum; something not stipulated by our Constitution, which concisely defines what referenda are. This new type of referendum, as I said above, is designed to clutter our ballots and encourage hostility towards our elected leaders.

The Constitution says that referenda may be ordered in only two ways: either by the Legislature or by citizen petition. That's it.

The Constitution does not provide for the automatic placement of referenda (or any other type of measure) on the ballot. Each referendum that appears on our ballot must be separately authorized.

The Constitution doesn't allow for referenda to be triggered en masse for a very good reason: our republic is a representative democracy.

The initiative and referendum were intended as a safeguard for our state, not a replacement for our legislative process.

If all six million of us that reside in Washington could meet daily to make decisions, we wouldn't need a House of Representatives or a Senate. But given the size of our population, and given that the creation of good law requires extensive research, time, discussion, and knowledge, we need a legislature. A legislature that is not subjected to the harmful interference I-960 tries to create.

I-960's "advisory vote" gimmickry (which unlawfully attempts to create an ugly, malformed sibling to our existing power of referendum), would create confusion, waste our money, and cause frustration.

That's something Washington doesn't need.

You can help prevent I-960 from ever having a chance to wreak havoc on our state and our communities by voting NO on or before next Tuesday, Nov. 6th.

Read the rest of the series: Part I | Part III | Part IV


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