More than eight in ten Washington voters are supportive of legislation that would add transparency and context to statewide initiatives and referenda in Washington by disclosing fiscal impacts to voters on the ballot, the Northwest Progressive Institute’s most recent statewide research poll has found.
An incredible 82% of voters surveyed by Public Policy Polling last month for NPI expressed support for requiring official descriptions for initiatives to inform voters whether the proposed initiative would increase or decrease funding for public services. Just 11% were opposed and only 7% were not sure.
65% of the respondents expressed strong support for the idea, which is under consideration in the Washington State Legislature as House Bill 1876.
Sponsored by State Representative Mia Gregerson (D‑33rd District: South King County), HB 1876 was approved by the House of Representatives last month and is now on the floor of the Washington State Senate. The bill is supported by the League of Women Voters of Washington, AARP Washington State, Fix Democracy First, and many other people and organizations that share NPI’s commitment to making our ballots more sensible and informative for voters.
HB 1876 is pretty straightforward.
It requires that a measure with a fiscal impact appear on the ballot with a disclosure stating whether the measure would increase or decrease funding for public services, followed by a succinct list of the services impacted. If the general fund is affected, the statement would list the top three categories of state services supported by the general fund in the current state budget.
Although local propositions such as levies already provide this kind of fiscal impact information, statewide ballot measures do not. In fact, state law doesn’t allow fiscal impact disclosures to be appended to statewide initiative and referendum ballot titles. HB 1876 solves this problem, thereby ensuring that in the future, voters are advised before they pick up a pen to fill in a Yes, No, Approved, or Rejected oval that the measure they’re voting on would affect the state’s finances.
HB 1876 is one of our priority bills for 2022.
Its passage will make future official descriptions of initiatives and referenda more complete and transparent, helping voters reach more informed decisions about what they’re voting on, especially if they don’t have their voter’s pamphlet handy. The state already prepares fiscal impact statements for initiatives, but as noted above, there is no acknowledgment of projected fiscal impacts on the ballot itself.
If HB 1876 is adopted, voters would be informed going forward when a statewide ballot measure has an estimated fiscal impact, which could encourage them to pick up their voter’s pamphlet to learn more. This is an idea that Democratic, Republican, and independent voters are all enthusiastic about implementing.
Here is the question we asked and the answers we received:
QUESTION: In Washington State, the people may propose laws for adoption or rejection at the ballot after gathering sufficient signatures. These are known as initiatives. Current state law does not require official descriptions of initiatives to disclose projected financial impacts to public services as part of their ballot titles. Do you strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose or strongly oppose requiring official descriptions for initiatives to inform voters whether the proposed initiative would increase or decrease funding for public services?
- Support: 82%
- Strongly support: 65%
- Somewhat support: 17%
- Oppose: 11%
- Somewhat oppose: 6%
- Strongly oppose: 5%
- Not sure: 7%
Our survey of 700 likely 2022 Washington State voters was in the field from Thursday, February 17th through Friday, February 18th, 2022.
It utilizes a blended methodology, with automated phone calls to landlines (50%) and text message answers from cell phone only respondents (50%).
The poll was conducted by Public Policy Polling for the Northwest Progressive Institute and has a margin of error of +/- 3.7% at the 95% confidence interval.
The enthusiasm we saw for this legislation in our poll last month is truly remarkable. This is easily one of the most popular ideas that we have ever tested in nearly a decade of statewide research polling. In an era of polarization and hyperpartisanship, there simply isn’t much that more than eight in ten voters say they agree on. But strengthening official descriptions to disclose projected fiscal impacts just makes sense. Voters are wildly enthusiastic about this bill.
In fact, there isn’t a single group within the poll who are opposed. Trump voters and Biden voters are almost equally enthusiastic. 79% of Trump voters said they were supportive, while 86% of Biden voters said they were supportive.
86% of independent voters are supportive (71% strongly!), along with 81% of Democratic voters and 76% of Republican voters.
Every single region of the state is incredibly supportive, and the intensity of support beyond King County is extremely impressive.
86% of voters in Eastern and Central Washington are supportive (72% strongly), surprisingly exceeding King County’s 80% support.
The South Sound leads all regions in overall support, with 89% total (73% strongly), but North Puget Sound and Olympia Peninsula / Southwest Washington aren’t far behind at 79% and 80%, respectively.
Convicted chair thief and serial public disclosure law offender Tim Eyman, Washington’s most prolific sponsor of initiatives, is part of the 11% who oppose HB 1876. Eyman, who has made a living hawking destructive anti-tax initiatives, can’t stand the idea of voters being advised that a measure sponsored by him or others like him would have a fiscal impact because it would make it harder to dupe voters with manipulated ballot titles. Eyman has described the proposed disclosure as akin to a “Surgeon general’s warning for initiatives.”
However, that’s not an appropriate metaphor.
Warnings from the Surgeon General are required by law to appear on all containers of certain types of products, like cigarette cartons or bottles containing alcoholic beverages, and their wording is usually always the same.
These disclosures would only appear when OFM assesses that a measure would have a fiscal impact, and the disclosure’s language would be formulated to inform voters what services or types of services would be affected.
Every fiscal impact disclosure would employ prescribed language and follow a formula. The Attorney General’s office would be tasked with supplying the descriptors of the affected services for the fiscal impact disclosures.
The office already has to perform a similar task for “advisory votes” — a scheme of Eyman’s own design! However, unlike Eyman’s “advisory votes,” these fiscal impact disclosures would be neutrally worded, with the goal of providing essential information rather than trying to influence how people vote.
The adoption of HB 1876 would be a huge win for voters this legislative session. We urge the Senate to join the House in passing this bill so that Washingtonians are assured of seeing more descriptive summaries of initiatives and referenda the next time they vote on a measure that would affect the state’s finances.