Another election year, another go-round with Tim Eyman, the initiative king. I’m doing everything I can as a volunteer in opposition to this year’s Initiative 1185, so bear in mind that I am co-chair of the No on 1185 Committee as I share at Crosscut some of the featured themes of the debate.
Initiative 1185 is Eyman’s effort to renew the requirement for supermajority approval – a two-thirds vote in each chamber – to pass most tax legislation in Olympia. Eyman does this every two years (we last saw it as I-1053 in 2010) because otherwise the legislature has the power to set aside the initiative-spawned supermajority rule by simple majority vote. Thus, Eyman’s I-1185 campaign this time around will re-hash his same themes of I-1053 two years ago. The basic Eyman contention: Only the supermajority constraint protects us from a legislature indifferent to taxpayers and bent on hog-wild fiscal profligacy.
Sequels by formula, however, are tricky business. Batman & Robin nearly did Batman in for good. I-1185 in today’s circumstances could be quite a different proposition from I-1053 that Eyman correctly boasts was handily passed two years ago. This year his war chest has been contributed by almost no one but the likes of BP and three other big oil companies, plus the Washington, D.C. mega-lobby Beer Institute. Over $1 million seems to have been run through by the paid signature gathering effort to get I-1185 on the ballot. Suggestions have been reported by The Stranger’s David Goldstein, and are now under investigation by the Public Disclosure Commission, that some of the money may have been improperly diverted to other Eyman causes.
On the other side, we opponents will be volunteering our efforts with the benefit of no war chest at all much beyond what will pay for a website and a facebook page. So don’t expect I-1185 commercials to clutter up your cable channel on either side’s account.
But visibility in political currency may come anyway because, quite unlike the stand-alone contest over I-1053 two years ago, in this Democrat Jay Inslee opposes it. Will there be a coattail effect? If so, which direction will it run?
Another difference from two years ago lies at the fiscal heart of the matter. That is the much-worsened state of the budgetary landscape, now distinctly overhung by Eyman’s supermajority approach. Driving to frugality in government, as I-1053 voters may have hoped for in 2010, is one thing. Arriving at penury, as we have fallen into by 2012, is quite another. We see all around us shrunken social services, closed state parks, crumbling roads, gaps in public health protections. But the gravest marks of fiscal impoverishment are the cuts to state funding for K-12 public education and our public colleges.
The scale of cutbacks in education funding, tied to the supermajority rule’s blockading of a balanced fiscal responses to the recession, has been very large. Against the baseline of 2008, successive budges for 2009-2013 have cut state funding for K-12 education on the order of $2 billon.
That problem is spotlighted in the state Supreme Court’s McCleary declaration last January, ruling that the state is failing its paramount constitutional duty adequately to fund public elementary and secondary schools, and setting a deadline for fixing it.
The cost of remedying the McCleary situation is understandably still unsettled. But the number seems never to be pegged at less than $1 billion in the next budget, and climbing significantly after that. Both gubernatorial candidates have offered brave but perhaps wishful assertions that this can be done without tax increases. But those claims have run into a barrage of sober assessments earnestly emanating from Gov. Gregoire’s Office of Financial Management and widely echoed among those close to the education funding discussion.
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