Elections

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.

Andrew Villeneuve

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