NPI's Cascadia Advocate

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

Thursday, March 24th, 2022

Fiscal impact disclosures now required for statewide initiatives: Governor signs HB 1876

Yes­ter­day, Wash­ing­ton State Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee signed a num­ber of NPI pri­or­i­ty bills into law. Among them was House Bill 1876, which requires fis­cal impact dis­clo­sure state­ments for ini­tia­tives that would affect the state’s finances.

Spon­sored by State Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Mia Gregerson (D‑33rd Dis­trict: South King Coun­ty), HB 1876 is one of the most pop­u­lar bills we’ve ever test­ed pub­lic sup­port for, with an over­whelm­ing 82% of the elec­torate in favor.

HB 1876 is the first sig­nif­i­cant ini­tia­tive reform leg­is­la­tion to be signed into law in Wash­ing­ton State in the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry. It makes vot­ing on statewide ini­tia­tives eas­i­er (and decep­tive cam­paign­ing hard­er!) by alert­ing vot­ers when an ini­tia­tive would increase or decrease fund­ing for pub­lic ser­vices. This is done through a state­ment that appears before the Yes/No ovals on the ballot.

Incred­i­bly, before today, no such dis­clo­sures were required for statewide ini­tia­tives. Fis­cal impact state­ments for statewide ini­tia­tives have been required for decades, but notice of those state­ments has not been required in the lan­guage vot­ers see on their bal­lots. HB 1876 address­es this problem.

Going for­ward, vot­ers will be advised when an ini­tia­tive has a fis­cal impact so they can do more research if they’d like, whether by open­ing the voter’s pam­phlet to read the fis­cal impact state­ment or by going online to learn more about the ini­tia­tive that they are vot­ing on. Local propo­si­tions have long pro­vid­ed fis­cal impact infor­ma­tion for vot­ers in their bal­lot lan­guage, but ridicu­lous­ly, statewide ini­tia­tives have been lim­it­ed to thir­ty-word con­cise descrip­tions that don’t pro­vide for a dis­clo­sure of fis­cal impacts. But not anymore!

The result of this seem­ing­ly small but huge­ly ben­e­fi­cial change will be a more informed elec­torate. HB 1876 ensures that vot­ers don’t have to depend on ini­tia­tive cam­paigns or oth­er unof­fi­cial sources of infor­ma­tion to learn about the exis­tence of an ini­tia­tive’s fis­cal con­se­quences. If a pro­posed statewide ini­tia­tive would sig­nif­i­cant­ly alter the state’s finances and have bud­getary impacts, then vot­ers will be told that as part of the mea­sure’s offi­cial description.

If HB 1876 had been in place in years past, vot­ers would have been explic­it­ly advised of the fis­cal con­se­quences of tax-cut­ting mea­sures like Tim Eyman’s I‑976 before they vot­ed, instead of see­ing a duplic­i­tous bal­lot title that neglect­ed to men­tion that any ser­vices would be cut by its passage.

Over the past two decades, Eyman has per­fect­ed the abu­sive prac­tice of bal­lot title shop­ping… manip­u­lat­ing the bal­lot title writ­ing process to max­i­mize the like­li­hood of get­ting lan­guage that offi­cial­ly rep­re­sents his destruc­tive tax slash­ing schemes with slant­ed, favor­able word­ing. The I‑976 bal­lot title, which con­tained mul­ti­ple fab­ri­ca­tions, was per­haps the most egre­gious of all of the bal­lot titles Eyman mas­saged out of the Attor­ney Gen­er­al’s office going back to the 1990s.

Now, thanks to the suc­cess­ful enact­ment of HB 1876, it won’t be pos­si­ble for bad actors like Eyman to obtain any more ini­tia­tive bal­lot titles that hide any men­tion of the ini­tia­tive’s antic­i­pat­ed fis­cal impacts. So long as this new law stays in place, there will nev­er again be a bal­lot title as slant­ed as I‑976’s was.

Wash­ing­ton State vot­ers deserve to know the truth about what an ini­tia­tive would do before vot­ing on it. HB 1876 adds in some of the sore­ly need­ed con­text that has been miss­ing from the bal­lot bat­tles of yesteryear.

The result will be bet­ter, fair­er elections.

The final ver­sion of HB 1876 allows any­one who is dis­sat­is­fied with the phras­ing of a fis­cal impact dis­clo­sure state­ment to file an appeal with Thurston Coun­ty Supe­ri­or Court, which shall by law have five days to return a rul­ing on lan­guage that can­not be appealed fur­ther. The ini­tial ver­sion of the bill did­n’t pro­vide a mech­a­nism for appeal­ing the lan­guage. Now there is one.

Tim Eyman fought hard to defeat HB 1876 in the Leg­is­la­ture and said killing the bill was his top objec­tive of the 2022 leg­isla­tive ses­sion. Today, we can say that Eyman is beat­en. HB 1876 is the law of the land, and will take effect in June, nine­ty days after the adjourn­ment of the 2022 leg­isla­tive session.

NPI thanks all of our cham­pi­ons who worked on this bill, espe­cial­ly State Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Mia Gregerson, State Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Javier Valdez, Sen­a­tor Sam Hunt, and Sen­a­tor Pat­ty Kud­er­er. These four law­mak­ers worked incred­i­bly hard to get this bill to Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee’s desk for sig­na­ture yes­ter­day, and they have our utmost thanks and grat­i­tude. Our thanks also to allies like the League of Women Vot­ers and Fix Democ­ra­cy First for sup­port­ing this bill.

Next ses­sion, we will be con­tin­u­ing the effort to push for even more reforms to make it eas­i­er to vote, includ­ing get­ting rid of Tim Eyman’s bal­lot propaganda.

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