Thursday, October 28, 2010

Initiatives, Referenda, and Joint Resolutions: a Guide to Washington State's Midterm Ballot

As an American, I feel it is every citizen's duty not only to vote, but to inform themselves as to the choices they have in the voting booth, and the consequences of those choices.  But I also understand that not everyone has the time or inclination to dig into it that I do.  So, as a public service (or possibly just a cry for attention), I have spent the afternoon going through the Washington State Voter's Pamphlet, reading through the wording, the consequences, and the statements for and against, and I have assembled this handy guide to how I think you should vote and why.

Please note that this is only a guide to Initiatives to the People, Referenda from the State Legislature, and State Senate and House Joint Resolutions.  I may or many not have time to write about the races for federal and state political office later this week.  I feel like people are probably already pretty set as far as the types of candidates they support, being that people generally know where they stand on the political spectrum.  But ballot initiative and the like take a little more unpacking, I think, and I wanted to devote a little time to figuring it out for myself, and apparently I've decided that you want to know what I think, too.  So here it is.

The Quick and Dirty Version:

I-1053:  NO
I-1082:  NO
I-1098:  YES
I-1100:  YES
I-1105:  NO
I-1107:  NO
R-52:  YES
SJR-8225:  YES
HJR-4220:  NO

Reasons why below the jump, for those who care to know.

Initiative 1053:  Tim Eyman tries to turn us into California (and not in a good way)
How I think you should vote: NO

Faux-populist jackass Tim Eyman is back with another plan to starve Washington of needed revenue and preserve tax breaks and loopholes for such stellar coporate citizens as BP Oil.  As with nearly all his initiatives, it sounds good on paper--who doesn't hate taxes, after all?--and would be absolutely ruinous in practice.

Look, we all hate paying taxes, but you know what?  Taxes are what pay for all the good things we think of as free, or at least as given, things like roads and teachers and libraries and firefighters and domestic violence hotlines and regulatory agencies that make sure the food you eat and the toys your children play with aren't made of poison because it's cheaper than making them out of not-poison.  And sometimes, times like now, when the state has a budget deficit to close, the state needs to be able to raise taxes in order to fund all those good things we all take for granted.  It sucks but there it is, and the responsible, grownup thing to do is to acknowledge that fact and make peace with it.  Yes, I, too would like to keep a little more of my money to spend as I see fit, but honestly, the trade-off just isn't there unless you are ridiculously wealthy, in which case, hey, cry me a river.

If I-1053 passes, it would take fewer than twenty lawmakers to put the kibosh on any tax increase.  So much for majority rule.  You know how the US Senate can't get anything passed because of the supermajority requirement in the Senate rules?  It'd be like that, only worse.

And even if one were of a mind to give it a shot and see how it worked out, well, we don't even have to do that, because it has been tried, in California, and boy are they proper fucked as a result.

Initiative 1082:  Big Insurance wants a piece of Workman's Comp
How I think you should vote:  NO

While I am not explicitly anti-capitalist, there are certain things that I think should be kept insulated from market forces and the profit motive.  This is one of them.

If you get hurt (or killed) on the job, workman's comp is there to help pay your bills and get you back on your feet.  In return, you and your employer pay a little bit of money into a state fund set aside for that purpose.  It's really basic social safety net stuff, like Social Security and Medicare, the kind of thing where the last thing you want on the other end if you have to make use of it is somebody whose motive is to fuck you over and keep the money.  Because that's what'll happen.  It almost has to.

The purpose of capitalist entities is not to provide services (that's actually somewhat incidental); it's to make money.  It's in their corporate charters.  They're actually exposed to shareholder lawsuits if they don't do every little thing they can think of to maximize shareholder value, no matter how short-term or short-sighted.  It certainly doesn't matter what's the right or wrong thing to do.  Corporations are inherently psychopathic, as they by their very nature lack the neurological architecture to identify with the emotions or well-being of others.  They literally cannot care about anything other than the bottom line.

Basically, I-1082 is a bait and switch.  The bait is that you won't have to pay your share of L&I anymore; your employer will be on the hook for all of it.  The switch doesn't come until you try to make a claim, and they deny you for any or no reason at all, and you languish in poverty and the aftereffects of your on-the-job injury because you can't afford a lawyer to force them to do what they're supposed to do. 

You'll be like those folks in Tennessee whose house burned down.  They saved themselves $75.00 by opting out of their local fire department's program, and lost everything when their house caught fire.

Initiative 1098:  State IncomeTax for high earners
How I think you should vote:  YES

While I am cognizant of the slippery-slope argument, that allowing an income tax for high earners opens the door to expanding it to everybody, as it stands I'm in favor of this law.

Opponents will call this a tax increase, but that's not really true, if I'm reading this right.  What it is is a tax shift, and a progressive one at that.  The only people who'd have to pay it are individuals earning more than $200,000 a year and families earning more than $400,000 a year, who would pay no tax on earning up to that point, then 5% on anything over that up to half a million for individuals and a million for families, at which point the 5% jumps to 9%.  As an offset, Business and Occupation taxes (at least as far as the state is concerned) would be eliminated for some 80% of small businesses, and state property taxes would be cut by more than $350,000,000.

As far as I'm concerned, this is a gimme.  Small businesses and homeowners come out ahead, the vast majority see their tax burden shrink, and the people who derive the most value and advantage from our state's economy, and who are best able to afford it, pick up a little more of the tab for health care and education.  I imagine that many of those people object to the imposition of this tax, to which I say this: cry me a river, I'd love to have that problem, and so would almost everyone I know.  If you don't like it, move somewhere else.

Initiative 1100:  Repealing the State Liquor Monopoly
How I think you should vote:  YES

Just as I think there are certain things that should be kept out of the purview of the market and the profit motive, so I also believe there are certain things that should not be the purview of the state, except with regards to taxation.  Liquor is one of them.

It is, and always has been, disappointing to me that Washington state has such draconian liquor laws, throwbacks to the Prohibition era, and that the state feels it not only has the right, but the obligation, to tell adults when and where they can purchase alcohol, and at what price.  I-1100 takes those functions away from the state and returns them to the market, where in my opinion they belong.  The state retains its authority to grant (and retract) licenses to sell, distribute, and make hard liquor, and the Liquor Control Board will still maintain its authority and mission to enforce liquor laws.  There will still be revenue from the taxation of liquor.  We just won't have to pay the state's 50+% markup, or abide a limited number of liquor stores open a limited number of hours, selling a limited number of spirits decided upon by faraway people in Olympia who have, at best, limited accountability to we the people.

I am aware with a certain disconnect here, in that I-1100 will cost the state a not-inconsiderable chunk of revenue in lean times when there are budget shortfalls to be made up.  However, it's my considered belief that the revenue loss is an acceptable price to pay for a more just and appropriate arrangement of society. 

Initiative 1105:  Replacing the State Liquor Monopoly with Private Liquor Monopolies
How I think you should vote:  NO

Although I-1105 echoes a good deal of the populist sentiment behind I-1100, the fine print reveals a couple of key differences.  Here's one of them:  "The Board would make spirits distributor licenses available to all applicants who are appointed by, or agents of, spirits manufacturers, distillers, or suppliers..."

That's right.  It's big business trying to horn in and replace one monopoly with another one.  Same price-gouging, same lack of negotiating power for the consumer, only the beneficiaries are a bunch of giant out-of-state corporations who could give fuck-all about anything but their own bottom lines. 

What's worse, I-1105 repeals all liquor taxes, and directs Olympia to make up the (much larger) revenue shortfall with some other tax.  Which you know is just going to work out great for you and I.

Just to clear something up, I think vice should be largely out of the control of the state, aside from common-sense enforcement provisions designed to protect society at large, but I also think that vice is a fine thing to tax, and that the revenue it generates can and should be used for the general good.

Initiative 1107:  Repealing the Tax on Candy and Soda
How I think you should vote:  NO

Candy and soda pop are not food.  Repeat:  candy and soda pop are not food.  If anything, they're drugs, and what's worse, they're drugs that are extensively marketed to children.  You don't even get a good buzz off of them, either, unless you count a sugar rush/crash as fun, in which case, well, I don't know what to tell you.

Proponents call the (mostly temporary, all quite minimal) taxes they're trying to repeal 'grocery taxes,' which is pretty misleading, as the (mostly temporary, all quite minimal) taxes in question are on candy and soda pop and processed food-like products, which as mentioned previously are not food.

As far as I'm concerned, we're back in vice territory here.  And, as with liquor (and cigarettes, and, honestly, most recreational drugs) I think they are ripe for taxation.  There are larger societal costs associated with their use and abuse (diabetes, anyone?  childhood obesity?), and while I don't necessarily think they ought to be banned, I think that adding a small tax to their purchase is perfectly okay, especially when the state has budget shortfalls in the works that will cut essential services that I think most people would prefer to see remain available.

That it might, on a statistical level, cause a slight drop in the consumption of aforementioned non-food items is, to me, a feature and not a bug.

And, in case you had any questions about who's behind I-1107, according to the Washington State Voter's Pamphlet, almost all the funding behind I-1107 comes from one source, the American Beverage Association, an industry group whose profits are affected by the (mostly temporary, all quite minimal) taxes in question.  And, honestly, fuck 'em.  They've got plenty of revenue, and they still will, even if Washington state temporarily and largely minimally taxes the purchase and consumption of their products to make up revenue shortfalls.

Referendum 52:  Bonds for Energy Efficiency Projects
How I think you should vote: YES

R-52 empowers the state of Washington to isse $505 million in state bonds to fund energy efficiency renovation projects in public schools, universities and community colleges.  While the actuarial tables indicate that the overall cost for issuing the bonds and servicing the debt (over the course of twenty years) comes to most of a billion dollars, the criteria for awarding funding requires that the energy efficiency projects funded by the bonds must be cash flow positive, meaning the energy savings from the improvements must outweigh the costs of the project.  One estimate of the savings from the projects is something like $130 million a year.  Even figuring five years before the savings kick in, $130 million a year for fifteen years saves the state $2.25 billion, meaning a net gain of more than one and a quarter billion dollars.


And, as icing on the awesome cake, that's $505 million worth of construction jobs, which, given the economy, sounds like a pretty good idea to me.  I'm sure it sounds pretty good to all the men and women who used to make their living building things during the housing bubble but now make their living from unemployment insurance and being greeters at Wal-Mart.

In addition, R-52 extends a tax on bottled water set to expire in 2013.  I'm all for this, as I think bottled water is one of the biggest scams ever, being basically tap water from somewhere else sold in a plastic container that'll take a thousand years or so to decompose, so anything that makes that that much less attractive as an option is okay by me.

Senate Joint Resolution 8225:  Taking Federal Subidies into Account when Deciding Bond Issues
How I think you should vote:  YES

This is a tricky one, invovling accounting and debt calculations, but as near as I can make out, what SJR 8225 basically does is allow the State Treasurer to take federal subsidies of bond issues into account each year when deciding how much money the state can borrow in the form of said bond issues.

Basically it works like this:  the state has a debt ceiling, a certain amount over which it may not borrow money, which is calcuated twice a year when the State Treasurer issues bonds and such, and which includes, among the many numbers involved in said calculations, taking into account how much it costs to service the bonds already issued.  Now, the federal government has taken to subsidizing these payments, as a way of keeping state employees employed, which keeps people working and helps keep the economy going (awfully nice of them, right?  I know).  Anyway, what SJR 8225 does is a) make Washington state's bonds eligible for this subsidy, and b) allow the State Treasurer to take these subsidies into account when calculating the state's bond issues each year.

Sounds good to me.

House Joint Resolution 4220:  Expansion of the Power to Deny Bail
How I think you should vote:  NO

HJR 4220 was passed in the wake of the unprovoked shooting of four Lakewood Police Officers by Maurice Clemmons in a cafe on November 29, 2009.  It passed unanimously in the State Senate, and almost unanimously in the State House of Representatives. 

As it currently stands, the Constitution of the State of Washington only allows the denial of bail by judges in cases of capital crimes, i.e. those which carry the death penalty as a possible sentence.  HJR 4220 would alter the Constitution to expand that to include crimes which carry the possibility of life in prison as a punishment, so long as there was evidence of a propensity for violence and a reasonable probability that the arrestee might constitute a danger to others if released before his or her trial.

There is room for disagreement here, and I can respect those who differ from me on this.  I can see where it would be possible to read HJR4220 and find it a reasonable tool to add to the state judicial tool-box in order to provide for public safety.

But I cannot see it that way, myself.  In the wake and the horror over Clemmons' unprovoked murder, the legislature felt a need to do something, and be seen doing something, because that's what politicians do when shit like this happens.  It's perfectly understandable.  The problem is the solution is almost always worse than the problem, and often would not have prevented the tragedy that brought it about. 

Which is certainly the case here.

For all the horror and tragedy that came as a result of Clemmons' release (he was out on bail for raping a child), at no point did the judge who set his bail decry his inability to deny bail.  Nor did he set it as high as the prosecutor requested. 

But like I said, in situations like this, politicians need to be seen as having done something, even when the problem/tragedy in question is not amenable to a legislative solution.

So, had it been in place, HJR 4220 would not have prevented the tragedy it was passed in reaction to.  Which leaves us with the state attempting to arrogate to itself powers that it didn't have before and which are amenable to abuse.  It's the PATRIOT Act all over again, only on a smaller scale.  As a civil libertarian, I have to oppose it, despite the horror I share at Maurice Clemmons' actions (and I am horrified by them).  And while I do believe that something should be done about people like Maurice Clemmons and what the system does to them (and what they do in reprisal; after all, this was a guy who was thrown into prison at 17, which surely played some role in the man he became), I absolutely do not believe that HJR 4220 or legislation like it would do anything at all to address that problem, but that it does open the door to denying potentially innocent people rights they are currently guaranteed under the Washington state Constitution.

And, as a general rule, and specifically in this case, I'm against anything that rolls back my rights and civil liberties.


Kevin said...

I agree on all except for I-1100. In principle I like the idea of getting government out of selling booze, for the reasons you list. The arguments against it that talk about negative revenue and public safety impacts don't convince me.
But a likely outcome of I-1100 is that smaller independent wineries and breweries will suffer. Most (but not all) small boutique/craft wineries and breweries fear that removing the current system of regulation will give bigger producers and distributors an advantage in dealing with the big box store retailers who will now be able to throw their weight around with pay-for-play (or bulk discount pricing for premium shelf space, etc) demands. This initiative was written, after all, by Costco, for this very reason.

dallas taylor said...


While I'm not unsympathetic to that argument, I'm not sure I quite find it convincing, either. I do understand that bigger companies will (or at least might) be able to parlay their larger operations and promotional budgets to their advantage, but it seems to me that small breweries and wineries can and will maintain a competitive advantage by the nature of the product they sell. Certainly the breweries, anyway. As a career hospitality industry worker, I can tell you that there is a certain cache to smaller, artisanal operations that simply can't be matched by larger companies, and I believe that these small artisanal operations can derive sufficient competitive advantage from that to survive and continue to thrive.

And even if they don't, I'm not sure I think it's appropriate for the state to prop them up through regulation. It may be desirable and appropriate for some regulation to come down the pipe that levels the playing field somewhat, and I would probably support that, but overall, I have difficulty accepting the possibility that small producers will be disadvantaged to be sufficient reason to keep the state's liquor monopoly intact. I do recognize that there's room for disagreement here, however.

It also occurs to me that perhaps these smaller, artisanal operations could not inconceivably band together into some sort of negotiating alliance and obviate some of the potential disadvantages to the deregulation.

But you do make a fair point, and it's something each person should consider for themselves, and decide what they think is best.

Ab_Normal said...

I'm a lurker at Balloon Juice and followed your link here: Thanks for the analysis and I think you may have changed my mind on I-1100.

dallas taylor said...


Glad you found it helpful. I, too, mostly lurk at Balloon Juice; love those people.