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.