Election 2014: Guns, buses, kids and control of Olympia

Turnout is expected to be meh, but what's at stake is anything but.
Turnout is expected to be meh, but what's at stake is anything but.

Editor's note: Crosscut will bring you all the election results beginning with the first release of counts shortly after 8 p.m. on Tuesday.

It's an election about kids, teachers, guns, buses and control of the state Legislature. The party that controls Olympia will get a huge say in what the state of Washington does — or doesn't do — to guarantee enough classroom teachers, tackle global warming and satisfy public transportation needs.

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The voting that ends next Tuesday is expected to draw ballots from 62 percent of voters statewide and in King County. If that doesn't sound like a turnout to celebrate, Secretary of State Kim Wyman has pointed out that it's considerably better than the 56 percent of state residents who cast votes in 2002. That was the last time we had a ballot with no races for governor, U.S. Senator or President. 

Lest we feel cheated, we will be deciding who fills all the state's Congressional seats, all the seats in the state House of Representatives and 25 of the 49 state Senate seats. Perhaps more relevant for turnout will be the three statewide ballot initiatives: two on guns and one on the size of public school classes. 

As Kim Wyman noted recently, initiatives do generate lots of advertising — which tends to remind people to vote. (We knew it was good for something.)

There are a half-dozen big topics that Crosscut will be bird-dogging on Election Night and beyond — the same ones we hope will drive you to get your ballot turned in by 8 p.m. on Nov. 4 — or postmarked by that day. Here's your 2014 Election preview.

 

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Guns: Initiatives 594 and 591

What you should know

In the wake of the fatal shooting at Marysville High School, Washington voters get to choose between two competing gun measures on November 4: I-594m, which expands background checks, and I-591, which doesn’t.

Initiative 594 would require background checks for all gun purchases — no matter where they happen. Whether you buy that Beretta from a licensed dealer, at a gun show, on Amazon, during halftime at your brother-in-law’s Super Bowl party or in the parking lot behind the 7 Eleven, you’ll have to go through the same bureaucratic (application, background check, etc.) process.

I-594 is sponsored by the Washington Alliance for Gun Control and bankrolled by some of the richest gun control advocates in the Northwest, including Nick Hanaeur, Paul Allen and Bill and Melinda Gates. The initiative does carve out a few exemptions: No background check necessary if you give your sister a shotgun for Christmas, or loan her one of your 30 ought 6 for (lawful) hunting or sport shooting. But by and large, I-594 would make it illegal to gift a firearm to anyone outside your immediate family.

Opposition to I-594 comes from four key organizations: The Washington Council of Police and Sheriffs, Washington State Law Enforcement Firearms Instruction Association (WSLEFIA), National Rifle Association (NRA) and National Rifle Association of America Washingtonians argue that privacy rights and public safety are at stake. Initiative 591 (Protect Our Gun Rights) is their counterpunch.

The measure prohibits state government from adopting background checks which are stricter than the national standard. It also prevents state agencies from confiscating firearms without due process and from instituting a universal gun registry.

There is a chance that Washington voters could actually pass both initiatives, opting to broaden background checks to a point. Should that occur, state courts or lawmakers would have to step in to sort things out.

Why you should care

Marysville High School (2014), Café Racer (2012), Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle (2006).

Or because you want to support your local billionaires.

Or because you don't believe changes to the current laws will help and think that tighter controls only hurt law-abiding gun owners.  

 

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Classroom sizes: Initiative 1351

What you should know

Initiative 1351 would require the Legislature to fund smaller class sizes in all the state's public schools (K-12). There's also some extra support for high-poverty schools. In addition to setting average class sizes for K-12, the initative also requires paying for a host of specialized staff (think school nurses, counselors, librarians, etc.) The measure, promoted by the teachers' union (Washington Education Association), doesn't specify how the state should pay for these changes. Opponents worry that without a dedicated funding source, I-1351 will push an already strained state budget to the breaking point, steal money from other state programs — social services and higher education — and swell school bureaucracies. Supporters say the state's persistently miserable rankings on class size (we're in the bottom five nationally) are shameful and deprive Washington students of the more effective, individualized instruction that the initiative would compel.

Why you should care

Because something is seriously wrong with Washington's K-12 education system when many of the state's college and advance degrees — and best jobs — are going to out-of-state-students.

Because the welfare of today's students sets the course for the health of the region's civic life and economy tomorrow.

Becaise it's up to us to weigh in when the Legislature considers making large new investments of our money.  

 

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Pre-K: Seattle Propositions 1A and 1B

What you should know

Proposition 1A and 1B are another pair of dueling initiatives. In this case, the City of Seattle and the union that represents its pre-school teachers are squaring off over early childhood education.

Why the dueling props?  Because when the city and the union representing its pre-school teachers sat down to hammer out a plan for universal pre-K, the mood soured and the union left the table and drafted its own initiative. The City Council — backed by the courts — subsequently decided that both initiatives couldn’t pass, so the two got lumped together on the November ballot. 

Which is why the first 1A/1B question you’ll answer is: “Should either of these measures be enacted into law?” Regardless of how you respond, you’ll then be asked to pick a Prop: 1A or 1B. If most voters say “no” to question #1, then the follow up (1A vs. 1B) becomes moot. If “yes” triumphs, then away we go — with the bigger vote-getter.

1A, also known as Initiative 107 — because why have one name when you can have two — would among other things, fast-track a hike in the minimum wage for childcare workers (to $15 an hour); require Seattle to hire a “Provider Organization” to grease communications between the City and child care workers; and create a “Workforce Board” for oversight and a “Professional Development Institute” to train and certify teachers and staff. 1A doesn’t include a way to pay for all this.

Its doppelganger, 1B, is a voluntary, city-endorsed pilot program that would last four years and, by the end of that time, cover pre-school costs for up to 2,000 low-income students. Unlike 1A, 1B does specify a source of funding: (surprise, surprise) property tax ($43 more per year if you own a $400,000 home – for a grand annual total of $58 million.) Families with higher incomes could pay on a sliding scale if they wanted to participate.

1A critics call the Prop a budget buster and argue that the $15 minimum wage is already an imminent citywide requirement (scheduled to start phasing in next April.) 1B critics say it doesn’t help enough kids and that city oversight will strangle any efforts at creative curricula. 

Why you should care

Because it’s kids. What happens to them between birth and age three —when their little brains are forming — will determine their success in school and life. If we want a community of smart, successful adults – who make a lot of money to keep Social Security solvent – then we’d be smart to invest in early childhood ed.

Because it’s money. Your money. Whether it’s property tax or some other subsidy, you’re the one who’s going to pick up the tab for this stuff. Best to pay attention.

 

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Metro buses, again: Transportation Benefit District Prop 1

What you should know

Seattle city voters will decide on a tax-and-fee measure to help support King County Metro service. The money was supposed to ease projected cuts in Metro bus service which were planned for February and later next year, but sunnier revenue projections at the transit agency have thrown some doubt on the size and timing of any cuts.

If Prop. 1 passes, 80 percent of the money over left after administrative expenses can be spent on bus service improvements. The remainder will expand transit access for low-income riders and improve regional service. The six-year measure (officially, the Seattle Transportation Benefit District Proposition 1) would raise $45 million annually by imposing a 0.1 percent hike in sales tax and raising annual vehicle licensing fees from $20 to $80. (Low-income car owners are eligible for a $20 rebate). The measure is essentially a city version of the county proposal that passed in Seattle earlier this year, but failed elsewhere in the county. 

Why you should care

Because this is Seattle: Metro buses are the workhorses of the daily commute, while connecting the city reasonably well at other times.

Because with Metro squeezed, equity has become a major concern in the region.

Because, once again, it's your money — and your choice on whether this is a good proposal.
 

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Monorail, again: Proposed City Transportation Authority

What you should know

Thanks to the signature-gathering skills of Magnolia activist Elizabeth Campbell and company, voters in Seattle will – for the fifth time – be voting on a monorail measure. Seattle Citizens Petition 1 would create a new government entity, the Century Transportation Authority, with power to “plan, construct, operate, and maintain public monorail transportation facilities.” (Go here for original monorail activist Dick Falkenbury’s tart take on the measure.)

CenTran’s board of directors would levy a $5 annual vehicle licensing fee. The proceeds (approximately $2 million a year) would cover “all or a portion” of the cost of planning and designing phase one of a new monorail plan, a 16-mile long line between Ballard and West Seattle.  Construction — at $2.4 billion — would require a follow-up tax measure. The monorail measure also envisions a separate gondola-like system to ferry folks between the waterfront and downtown.

Why you should care

Because the monorail is an emeritus Seattle icon, right up there with the Space Needle and the ferry system on the Recognizability Index, and it deserves consideration.

Because if you've tried driving around downtown lately, you know how desperately Seattle needs — in urban planner-speak — more “grade-separated” transit.

Because whether you hate the idea of an expanded monorail or cling to the faint, tragic hope that it might one day become a reality, this particular proposition won’t get you there. Rather than a monorail system, it will give us a bunch of people who will pay a different bunch of people to come up with a plan for an expanded monorail system. But it's a start.

Illustrations by Greg Hollobaugh. For all Crosscut's 2014 Election coverage, go here.

  

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