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.

Friday, November 2, 2007

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

Welcome to Part III 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.

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

Today we'll overview a second instance where I-960's "advisory vote" scheme runs afoul of the Constitution. As I noted yesterday:
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.
Our focus today is the non-binding aspect of these "advisory votes", which are automatically called upon passage of a revenue increase in the Legislature.

(As yesterday's installment explained, the Constitution only allows for referenda to be individually ordered by petition or by the Legislature.)

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 power includes only binding referendaPeople “reserve power, at their own option, to approve or reject at the polls any act, item, section, or part of any bill, act, or law passed by the legislature.”

Ref: Article II, Section 1
-- Expands referendum power to include non binding referenda

Ref: I-960 Text § 6-13

Again the state Constitution is clear: referenda, when called, are binding. If a referendum is approved by the people, the law that passed the Legislature goes into effect. If rejected, the law is nullified - wiped from the books.

Those are the only possible outcomes.

I-960's advisory votes, however, aren't binding. They're just opinion polls that would be plastered onto our ballots. Washington State is already home to plenty of polling firms that do regular research on public opinion. Why should a good portion our elections budget be needlessly spent on this nonsense?

There's an excellent reason the Constitution doesn't provide for nonbinding referenda: what would be the point of it? If we the people vote on a ballot measure, shouldn't that vote count for something?

The purpose of the referendum is to allow the electorate to decide the fate of a law enacted in Olympia whenever the Legislature or a sizable number of citizens (equivalent to 4% of those who voted in the last gubernatorial election) feel it appropriate. The referendum power is distinctly defined in the Constitution: it's not a gimmick, but a tool of direct democracy to be used wisely when needed.

I-960 attempts to set up an endless series of nonbinding referenda that will only create confusion, waste money, and cause frustration.

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 II | Part IV


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