Bill would require statement on initiatives’ funding on ballot

Spokesman Review

By Jim Camden

OLYMPIA – State initiatives would contain a ballot message that they could require the Legislature to cut programs or raise taxes if they pass under a bill passed overwhelmingly by the Senate.

The bill is a reaction by some legislators to recent initiatives that have approved major changes to state policies without providing a way to pay for them, from teacher raises to reductions in the number of students in public school classrooms. It would require any initiative that is estimated to raise state spending by more than $25 million to state the estimated impact on the state budget and a warning: “This means other state spending may need to be reduced or taxes increased to implement this proposal.”

Sen. Joe Fain, the bill’s sponsor, called it a way to provide “a little more transparency to the public.” Initiatives often have two issues, a change in policy and a cost to taxpayers, but campaigns often revolve mainly around the issues, said Fain, R-Auburn.

Sen. Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane, said the public already gets plenty of information in the guide that is sent to every voter in the state, and the bill puts too much faith in estimates from the Office of Financial Management.

Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, argued successfully that because initiatives are guaranteed in the constitution, the bill should need a two-thirds majority to pass. But that wasn’t enough for opponents to block the bill, which passed on a 41-8 vote and moves to the House.