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Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Tuesday, March 17th, 2015

Push poll creator Tim Eyman doesn’t want fiscal impact disclosures added to ballot titles

A bill that would add fiscal impact disclosures to the ballot titles of many future initiatives has drawn the ire of political profiteer Tim Eyman only a week after passing the Washington State Senate by a three-to-one margin.

Substitute Senate Bill 5715, originally prime sponsored by Senator Joe Fain (R-47th District; Kent, Covington, Auburn) seeks to help Washington’s citizen lawmakers cast more informed votes by adding a short message to the ballot titles of initiatives that would significantly raise revenue, cut revenue, or require the appropriation of funds for implementation. The current content of this short message (which can be found in Section 2 of the bill) is in bold below:

For an initiative to the people, or for an initiative to the legislature for which the legislature has not proposed an alternative, that has been certified for the ballot, and for which the fiscal impact statement prepared pursuant to RCW 29A.72.025 indicates that the initiative will result in an estimated net biennial increase in state expenditures of twenty-five million dollars or greater, or an estimated net biennial decrease in state revenues of twenty-five million dollars or greater, the ballot title to be displayed in the voters’ pamphlet and on the ballot shall be revised substantially as follows:

“Initiative Measure No. . . . concerns (statement of subject). This measure would (concise description). The state budget office has determined that this proposal would have an unfunded net impact of (amount) on the state budget. This means other state spending may need to be reduced or taxes increased to implement the proposal. Should this measure be enacted into law?

Yes [ ]
No  [ ]

Forty-one of Washington’s forty-nine senators backed SSB 5715 when it appeared on the Senate floor for a vote last week. Eight senators, including Eyman’s friends Pam Roach and Don Benton, voted against the bill. It is now in the House and before the State Government Committee chaired by Sam Hunt.

Eyman attacked a similar bill earlier on in the session and has now trained his sights squarely on SSB 5715, the only initiative reform bill to have survived the three cutoffs that have passed so far. Naturally, he doesn’t like the idea of adding fiscal impact disclosures to initiative ballot titles, because it might diminish support for his revenue-slashing and revenue-limiting initiatives.

For those reading who are unclear what is meant by the term ballot title, it’s the explanatory language that voters see on their ballots along with the initiative number and concise description. It’s the only information about the measure that appears above the bubbles or abrogated bars that voters fill in. It is always followed by the question Should this measure be enacted into law?

There isn’t room on the ballot to provide the text of initiatives, or arguments for and against. These appear in the voter’s pamphlet, but not every voter reads that, or conducts their own research using the Internet. Consequently, the language of the ballot title is very important, because it is the only information about the measure that every voter (or nearly every voter) is certain to see.

Initiative ballot titles are written by the Attorney General’s office, as required by state law. They are created at the time an initiative is being finalized for circulation via petition. SSB 7515 provides that initiatives that qualify for the ballot shall have the previously blockquoted fiscal impact disclosure added to their ballot titles, to alert voters that passage of initiatives like Eyman’s would affect the state budget.

Eyman dislikes SSB 5715 so much that he has sent out multiple emails attacking it and plans to testify in opposition to it at its public hearing in the House State Government Committee, which is scheduled for tomorrow morning at 8 AM.

Here’s a snippet from an email sent yesterday:

This is the bill that requires a Surgeon General’s warning label be attached to certain initiative ballot titles.

For 101 years, the Attorney General has been required by law to describe initiatives with a ballot title which is neutral and which “does not create prejudice for or against the measure.”

The proposed text of the warning label in SB 5715 is so incredibly biased and loaded that it’s obviously intended to stop people from supporting the targeted initiative.

In that same email, Eyman goes on to complain:

Gimme a break!

Inserting such a biased warning label into an initiative’s neutral ballot title is government-sponsored sabotage of that initiative.

Worst of all, the warning label is selectively applied: it gets slapped on some initiatives and not others. Who gets to decide: the Governor’s budget office. So any initiative the Governor sees as a threat will get a warning label, and any initiative the Governor supports will not.

The email ends with two asks: a request that followers send an email to the entire House roster opposing SSB 5715, and a request for money (as always). Eyman’s message template repeats his attack on the bill (emphasis ours):

Senate Bill 5715 is an anti-initiative bill that is now being considered in the House. I strongly oppose it and ask you to oppose it too. SB 5715 is filled with loaded, biased, vote-suppressing language that is clearly meant to convince voters to vote no. It allows the governor’s budget office to sabotage any initiative they see as a threat (the warning label only gets slapped on some initiatives, not others — who decides? The governor’s budget office). I ask you to oppose SB 5715. Leave our initiative process alone.

Tim Eyman has some nerve offering up this argument, considering that he’s the one responsible for the advisory votes push polls we now see annually on our ballots here in Washington State. (These are required under a provision of Eyman’s Initiative 960 that went unimplemented until 2012.)

Eyman’s push polls are not intended to take the pulse of the public, as he falsely claims, but rather to clutter up everyone’s ballots with misinformation that makes it seem as though our elected representatives are always raising taxes.

Under Eyman’s I-960, the repeal of an unneeded tax exemption constitutes an increase in revenue and triggers a push poll. So does a minor technical fix to our tax system. I-960 dictates the language and formatting of the push polls, which all look the same. There were two push polls in 2012, five in 2013, and two last year.

There are spaces in the push poll template for numbers to be plugged in (including stupid, misleading ten-year cost projections that make the dollar figures bigger), and for a terse description of the bill that triggered the push poll.

Otherwise, they look alike.

We published a report through Permanent Defense in 2013 which deconstructs Eyman’s push polls in more detail. We believe the push polls are unconstitutional, because they are basically a nonbinding form of referenda not authorized by our state Constitution, which spells out the initiative and referendum powers.

The constitutionality of the push polls has not yet been challenged in court, but ought to be, since the Legislature is unlikely to repeal them anytime soon. (Chris Reykdal introduced a bill to repeal the advisory votes in the House, and it made it to House Rules, but it did not receive a vote, most likely because House leadership figured it would be dead on arrival in Pam Roach’s committee in the Senate.)

It is ironic that Eyman is vociferously attacking a bipartisan, well-meaning effort to add context to initiative ballot titles as sabotage, given that sabotaging our Constitution, our common wealth, and public confidence in government is what he gets paid big bucks by his wealthy benefactors to do.

It is doubly ironic that he is complaining about the fiscal impact disclosures required by SSB 5715 as biased and loaded considering that he is the author of the initiative that unconstitutionally requires costly and deceptive push polls devised by him in response to any revenue-raising bill the Legislature approves.

It is triply ironic that Eyman is whining about SSB 5715 given that he regularly engages in the abusive practice of ballot title shopping. Eyman will file the same initiative draft with minor additions or subtractions multiple times, trying to massage a ballot title that he likes out of the Attorney General’s office. When he gets a ballot title he likes, he proceeds to print up petitions and move forward with the chosen incarnation of the destructive initiative he wants to peddle to the voters.

No reporter or media outlet should take Eyman’s comments in opposition to SSB 5715 seriously. Eyman doesn’t care about the integrity of the initiative process; he merely wishes to preserve the status quo because he is experienced at manipulating it. SSB 5715 represents an impediment to the success of future schemes. Little wonder, then, that he is beating a drum so loudly against it.

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