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, September 10, 2009

I-1033 is the boldest assault yet in Tim Eyman's war on representative democracy

On Monday, Tim Eyman sent out an email to his supporters (copied of course to reporters, legislators, and the governor's office) claiming that his latest scheme to wreck our common wealth – his jobs-killing Initiative 1033 – can't be all that bad because it includes "the safety valve of voter approval."

By that, Eyman means that the draconian, recession-perpetuating limits in his initiative, which freeze services at their current low funding levels, can be circumvented if voters explicitly approve more funds.

Eyman arrogantly stated in his email, "Opponents of I-1033 never, ever acknowledge that fact because they can't/won't answer this simple question: What's wrong with going to the voters?" (Emphasis is his, not ours).

We have actually addressed this argument on several occasions, and Tim Eyman knows it, because he trolls the Internet looking for comment threads and message boards where he can cut and paste the talking points that he sends out to his supporters. That makes his snide statements not only supercilious, but false.

What we've pointed out is that Eyman's measures are engineered to create voter fatigue. By making it illegal for elected leaders to make responsible decisions on their own - in other words, forcing them to seek voter approval to sustain any public service – Eyman is hoping to permanently focus public dialogue on costs rather than the benefits our common wealth provides.

He wants to turn people against government and in favor of future schemes from his initiative factory, which he will personally profit from.

So what's wrong with "going to the voters", for everything? Plenty.

First, budgeting by referendum is not representative democracy. Washington, like the United States, is a modern day constitutional republic, not an Athens-style direct democracy where every issue is voted on and decided by the people. We elect representatives and senators to make our laws, a number of at-large officers to execute our laws (most notably the governor, but also an attorney general, secretary of state, etc.), and judges to interpret our laws.

The initiative and referendum were created by progressives around a century ago (added to the Constitution by amendment) as tools that empowered the people to take action when the Legislature was unresponsive.

The initiative and referendum were not intended to replace the Legislature. Putting every decision about raising revenue in the hands of the people defeats the whole point of electing a House and Senate... and it is not what our Founders intended. In fact, our State Constitution explicitly stipulates that the Legislature's power to raise revenue may not be abridged: "The power of taxation shall never be suspended, surrendered or contracted away." (Article VII, Section 1.)

Second, budgeting by referendum does not work in practice.

Even those who argue that representative democracy is flawed cannot disagree with Winston Churchill's famous conclusion that it "is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried."

It's bad enough that some services we consider essential, like King County's Medic One, hinge on approval of levies every few years.

Imagine that taken to the extreme. Imagine if all decisions elected leaders make today had to be made by voters, or even merely all decisions concerning revenue (which, as discussed earlier, seems to be Tim Eyman's end goal.)

The results would be disastrous. Our state simply would not function. Because the outcomes of elections are not known until they are decided, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to do any advance planning, which is the whole point of a budget. And in today's modern, sophisticated times, advance planning is crucial.

All projects that government embarks on, like the construction of a new road or sewer system, require planning from start to finish, which somebody has to do; so every stage requires money.

Budgeting by referendum could theoretically work if the more than six million of us that live here could be gathered into giant rooms for periodic town meetings and if there was unlimited time for debate at those meetings, but since this is not the case, budgeting by referendum is not feasible.

The answer to every policy question would be in doubt. Will the new fire station be built? Will the police department get funded this year? Can we buy the land needed for that park? Or - and here is the ultimate irony - should money be appropriated to conduct the next election? (More on this momentarily).

If all public services were dependent on voter approval to exist year to year, Washington would not even be a State.

Our beautiful corner of America would be known as The Evergreen Chaos.

Finally, elections cost money.

Every time we the people of Washington State are forced to vote on Tim Eyman's measures, it costs each of us a pretty penny. Eyman seems to have forgotten that holding elections - like every other public service the government provides – carry a price tag. A not insignificant price tag, either.

The Secretary of State's office has estimated to NPI that state-level elections this year will cost about $4.1 million, which will be reimbursed to counties. There are no at-large contests for elected office across the state this year, unlike in even numbered years... just five special legislative elections and a judgeship to be decided. So the lion's share of that $4.1 million is paying for Initiative 1033 and Referendum 71 to be on our November ballots.

Additionally, it cost between $10,000 and $15,000 just to complete the random sample check of Initiative 1033's signatures, the Elections Division tells us.

Perhaps we should pass a law which says that any initiative which would deprive our public treasury of funds must be paid for out of pocket by the person sponsoring it; the common wealth would then not be used for the purpose of supporting a vote on any proposal which would hurt it. That would make Tim Eyman appreciate how much his ballot measures cost the rest of us even if they don't pass.

More practically, however, how are county and city governments supposed to be able to afford to "go to the voters" under Initiative 1033 since Initiative 1033 locks in all of the current budget cuts, leaving cities and counties with no flexibility and no way to pay for an election without negatively impacting other public services like police or fire protection? Now there's a problem that Tim Eyman didn't think of when he drafted Initiative 1033, because the scheme he imported from Colorado is rotten and unworkable, through and through.

Initiative 1033 cannot be mitigated or improved so that it becomes a sound idea because is not offered in good faith or with good intentions. It's an poorly written, badly conceived, mean-spirited, cynically designed initiative that would wreak havoc on our communities. Of all of Eyman's proposals, it is perhaps the most destructive and the most dangerous because it is his boldest assault yet on representative democracy. It is imperative that we send it back to the swamp of awful and venomous gimmicks from which it came.

Vote NO on Initiative 1033.


Blogger The Raven said...

"What's wrong with going to the voters?"

It's called minority rule. Win or lose, this major policy decision is probably going to be made by a small fraction of the electorate. If history is any guide, perhaps 1/5 of Washingtonians will decide this issue, and the majority could be as small as 1/10 of Washingtonians. That's not democracy.


September 10, 2009 9:36 AM  

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