NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate provides the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting 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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