Once again, Tim Eyman is upset because somebody is pointing out the illegality of one of his initiative proposals (Viewpoint, 6-12).
We’ve filed a lawsuit asking the court to recognize the illegality of Initiative 960 now, before signatures are even submitted. Because I-960 is not a valid initiative and will never become law, there is no reason to waste tax dollars counting signatures and placing it on the ballot.
Our lawsuit asks the court to look at just this narrow question of whether I-960 is a valid initiative. The courts have repeatedly and clearly stated that this subject should be reviewed before the election, so that taxpayers’ money is not wasted. Such pre-election review is as old as the initiative process itself.
When the people of our state created the initiative process, they wisely limited its scope to prevent initiatives from being used to alter the state constitution. No statute, whether enacted by the Legislature or by the people, can do this. It requires a constitutional amendment.
Yet I-960 clearly tries to amend the state constitution. For example, the constitution specifically provides that bills are passed by a simple majority vote of the Legislature, and a two-thirds vote is necessary only in specific instances, such as to override a governor’s veto.
I-960 would require a two-thirds vote to pass most revenue measures in the first instance. This constitutes an amendment to the lawmaking structure established in the constitution. For this reason the Alaska Supreme Court struck a virtually identical initiative from the ballot less than four months ago.
I-960 would also fundamentally change the referendum process set forth in the constitution. The constitution requires proponents to collect signatures in order to call a referendum, and then the vote is binding. I-960 would dilute this power by automatically requiring non-binding referenda on virtually every revenue bill. Referendum proponent would no longer have to collect signatures.
The result would likely be very expensive and boring advisory votes on dozens of menial bills every year.
This is the second time that Eyman has pushed an initiative to require automatic referendum. Last time, the state Supreme Court held that “the state constitution does not provide that the initiative power can be used to alter the method by which the referendum power is exercised.” This holding protects the referendum power.
Allowing constitutional amendment by initiative would threaten all of our constitutional rights, including the right to initiative and referendum. If I-960 were allowed to “expand” the power of referendum, the next initiative could be used to restrict it.
Even if I-960 could amend the constitution, it would not be a good policy for this state. For example, I-960 would have prevented the creation last year of the Department of Early Learning, which is already improving the quality and accessibility of early childhood education. State money should not be wasted conducting endless advisory votes on every garden- variety revenue measure.
I-960 is loosely patterned after a 1992 constitutional amendment enacted in Colorado. After its passage, Colorado fell to 49th in education funding and last in childhood vaccination rates. Ultimately, Colorado had to pull the plug on the experiment to start recovering its economy. That’s not what we want for Washington.
The two plaintiffs in the case support the responsible use of the initiative process. In fact, Initiative 775 in 2001 led to the formation of one of the plaintiffs, Service Employees International Union 775, when it gave low-wage home care workers the right to form a union. Now, SEIU 775 represents 35,000 such workers. Plaintiff Futurewise is a nonprofit group that has actively supported various ballot measures to promote healthy communities, including efforts to protect open space and fund transportation choices.
If Eyman truly wants to protect taxpayers, then he should support narrow pre-election review into the validity of I-960. If the measure is invalid and cannot become law, then surely we should not waste tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money on it.
Knoll Lowney practices public interest law in Seattle. He represents Futurewise and SEIU 775 in the pending challenge to Initiative 960. Last year, he brought a lawsuit that resulted in Eyman’s Initiative 747 being declared unconstitutional. That decision is being reviewed by the state Supreme Court.